THERESA MAY must delay the showdown vote on her Brexit plan or risk a catastrophic defeat next week, she has been told by her party.
The prime minister has insisted the vote on the withdrawal agreement will take place on Tuesday and will dispatch 30 ministers to ‘all corners of the UK’ today in a bid to shore up support.
But Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers, has told her to think again as more than 100 Tory MPs have publicly slammed the deal — with many angry the UK could be locked into the Northern Ireland backstop indefinitely.
‘The most important thing is to have clarity about how we might remove ourselves from a backstop,’ Sir Graham told the BBC’s Newsnight. ‘If that question can be answered in the next few days then all well and good.
‘If it can’t, then I certainly would welcome the vote being deferred until such time as we can answer that question.’ Mrs May’s spokesman insisted the vote would go ahead as planned and she was simply ‘taking stock’ as senior ministers came and went from No.10 yesterday. Mrs May has offered MPs a say over the backstop in a bid to secure the votes she needs.
‘There will be a choice between going into the backstop and extending the transition period,’ she told the BBC’s Today Programme. ‘The backstop is not automatic. I’m looking at the role of parliament in that choice.’ The DUP insisted it made no difference and Boris Johnson said it was ‘simply not possible’.
The former foreign secretary said: ‘Under her deal the EU has the legal right to stop us extending the transition and make us enter the backstop, whatever the PM or parliament says.’ Chancellor Philip Hammond will be among ministers visiting schools, businesses and hospitals today in a bid to win public backing for Mrs May’s deal.
Opening a third day of debate, Mr Hammond told the Commons a no-deal Brexit would be ‘too awful to contemplate’. He said: ‘The idea there’s an option of renegotiating at the 11th hour is simply a delusion. We need to be honest with ourselves, the alternatives to this deal are no deal or no Brexit.’
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned that MPs risk destroying the chance of a future trade deal if they vote down the agreement. He told MEPs: ‘I must say once again, today, calmly and clearly — it is the only and the best possible agreement.’
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Labour ‘would not countenance’ a no-deal Brexit but still opposes Mrs May’s deal. ‘If a bad Brexit is forced upon our country and jobs and the economy are not protected, many of our people who have suffered from eight years of austerity will suffer even more,’ he said.
Tory MP David Morris pleaded for Mr McDonnell’s support ‘so that we can all move on with our lives’.
Meanwhile, ITV confirmed last night it had scrapped plans for a televised debate between Mrs May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Sunday. It follows a similar decision by the BBC after the two leaders could not agree terms.
■ BORIS JOHNSON has been forced to say sorry to MPs for failing to declare more than £52,000 in income. The former foreign secretary offered a ‘full and unreserved’ apology in a statement to the Commons, after the standards watchdog found he was late registering nine payments, mostly from book royalties. It said Mr Johnson had not ‘intended to deceive’ but criticised his ‘over-casual attitude’ to the House rules.