Theresa May braced for Commons backlash over Brexit plan

Theresa May is braced for a furious backlash from Tory Brexiteers as she presents her deal on Britain’s EU withdrawal to the Commons.

The Prime Minister cleared the first hurdle when Cabinet ministers finally approved the draft terms of her agreement with Brussels at a stormy five-hour meeting on Wednesday.

But she now faces a battle to get it through Parliament as pro-Leave Conservative MPs – as well as some Remainers – lined up to condemn the plan, accusing her of breaking promises and leaving the UK at the mercy of Brussels.

Following the release of the 585-page agreement document, Jacob Rees-Mogg – the leader of the pro-Brexit European Research Group – wrote to all Tory MPs urging them to vote against it.

Rumours continued to swirl at Westminster that the tally of Conservative MPs who have submitted letters of no confidence in Mrs May is about to reach the 48 threshold needed to trigger a vote on her position.

Mr Rees-Mogg said that he was not among those MPs who had written to the chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, but suggested he could be “very close” to doing so.

“Certainly this has dented my confidence,” he told ITV’s Peston programme. “Politics depends on trust and this document is shattering to trust.”

While the Cabinet agreed to collectively support the agreement, there was speculation that some ministers were so unhappy that they could still quit in protest.

Reports suggested as many as a third of the 28 ministers attending the meeting in No 10 voiced doubts about the deal.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey was said to be particularly upset amid reports she was shouted down after she tried to press for the agreement to be put to a vote.

Mrs May described the debate around the Cabinet table as “long, detailed and impassioned”, in a clear indication her proposals had come under intense challenge from ministers.

Speaking outside 10 Downing Street minutes after the meeting concluded, she acknowledged she faced “difficult days ahead” as she attempts to win round critical MPs.

“I firmly believe, with my head and my heart, that this is a decision which is in the best interests of the United Kingdom,” she said.

Letter from Jacob Rees-Mogg to all Conservative MPs (PA)

At the same time she warned Brexiteers that if they failed to back her plan they risked ending up with “no Brexit at all”.

Chief Whip Julian Smith has said he is confident the Government will get the support of Parliament for the deal.

But with the DUP – whose 10 MPs prop up Mrs May in the Commons – voicing their unhappiness at the agreement, and the prospect of a significant Tory backbench revolt it is hard to see how ministers can make the numbers add up.

Jeremy Corbyn again made clear that Labour was unlikely to come to the Government’s rescue.

“I don’t believe that the deal that I’ve heard of so far is in the national interest. It doesn’t meet the interests of all parts of Britain, it doesn’t give us a security of our trading relationship with Europe in the future,” he said.

I have just sent a letter to @eucopresident recommending to the #EUCO#Article50 to find that decisive progress has been made in the negotiations on the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. #Brexitpic.twitter.com/7twf2adwkO

— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) November 14, 2018

Meanwhile European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker issued a statement that “decisive progress” had been made, clearing the way for a special summit for leaders of the remaining 27 EU states to give their stamp of approval, probably on November 25.

Senior UK Government officials said the final text of the withdrawal agreement featured important gains for the UK on the so-called backstop arrangements to be implemented if no trade deal can be reached.

The outline political declaration – which will be subject to further negotiation over the coming weeks – expresses an ambition to achieve zero tariffs and no quotas in EU-UK trade, something the officials said no other major economy had achieved.

The facilitated customs arrangements and “common rulebook” proposed in Mrs May’s Chequers plan are replaced by the concept of a “sliding scale” of commitments and market access, which means the UK would not be tied to an off-the-shelf deal of the kind previously offered to countries such as Canada.

Under backstop arrangements designed to keep the Irish border open, if no trade deal is agreed by the end of the transition period in December 2020, a temporary “EU-UK single customs territory” would be established.

This could be terminated only by mutual consent of Brussels and London but each side would be legally bound to make “best endeavours” to bring it to an end by sealing a permanent deal on their future relations.

There will be a provision to allow the two sides to extend the transition to a fixed date rather than activate the backstop.

A five-person arbitration panel, with two representatives of each side and one independent member, will be set up to rule on disputes, with the chair chosen by drawing lots if members cannot agree.