Theresa May put herself on course for a fresh collision with her cabinet and with Scottish Conservative MPs over her draft Brexit divorce deal, defending proposals for an Irish border ‘backstop’ that the UK would not be able to leave without EU permission.
The Prime Minister suggested the insurance policy to keep the status quo on the Irish border no matter what the future relationship between London and Brussels would remain unchanged, despite Brexiteers in cabinet pushing for a unilateral exit mechanism.
Mrs May said she would personally close out talks with the EU, and will meet Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels this week ahead of a final summit to sign off the deal on Sunday.
However, she said the focus of those talks would be the on the political declaration that outlines the future relationship, not the withdrawal agreement that includes the backstop.
“The focus this week will be on the future relationship and when we were in the house of commons a number of members were saying we want more details on that future relationship – that’s what we are working on this week,” Mrs May said, appearing on Sky’s Ridge on Sunday programme.
“It’s the future relationship that delivers on the Brexit vote. It’s the future relationship that actually says this is the right deal for the future for our country.”
The Prime Minister defended the backstop arrangement, which will keep the whole of the UK within EU customs rules if London and Brussels fail to agree a comprehensive trade deal by the end of the post-Brexit transition phase in December 2020.
The backstop would also see additional regulator checks imposed on goods travelling between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland. It would only cease to apply with the agreement of the EU.
Mrs May said: “If you took out an insurance policy… and that insurance policy was being used, but suddenly the people providing that insurance policy pulled the plug on it for you, and you were left without that insurance policy without having any say in it, what would you think?”
The comments risk further tensions between the Prime Minister and the so-called ‘Gang of Five’ including Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom Following a spate of cabinet resignations last week over the draft deal, the group decided to remain in Cabinet to work behind the scenes and force the Prime Minister into seeking new concessions from the EU. Brussels has insisted the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation.
Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary who triggered the current crisis by resigning on Tuesday, said he had been speaking “intensively” with Ms Leadsom and other ministers looking to change her deal.
He said: “I only resigned on Thursday morning so I can’t say I have had extensive conversations. But I am willing to talk and be as constructive as I can… I want [the Prime Minister] to get this right.”