PM may not seek to reopen Brexit deal, Cabinet minister suggests

The Prime Minister may not seek to reopen the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to make changes to the controversial Irish backstop, a Cabinet minister has suggested.

Jeremy Wright implied the insurance policy to prevent a hard border could be amended via a codicil, saying the "objective" mattered more than the "mechanism".

The Culture Secretary's comments came hours after Theresa May wrote to Tory MPs assuring them the Government would continue its work to secure changes to the backstop, as she pleaded with them to unite and deliver on Brexit.

Mr Wright told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "I think what's obvious is that Parliament, and I think probably people well beyond Parliament, are concerned about the potential indefinite nature of the backstop – that's what we've got to do something about.

"If this is the only way of doing it then that's the way we will pursue. If there are other ways of doing it that are just as effective that perhaps we haven't yet explored then we will do that too."

He continued: "I don't think it's the mechanism that matters, it's the objective: if you can get to a place where the potential longevity of the backstop, the potential that the backstop lasts forever can be adequately dealt with, that's what we're all seeking to do."

Meanwhile, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Labour would "look at" a proposal put forward by backbenchers Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson to back a second Brexit referendum.

"I met Peter and Phil last week, and what they're saying is if Parliament does agree some form of deal, why not have a confirmation referendum after that?" he told Marr.

"We'll look at that in the debate over the next week."

On Saturday, Mrs May urged her party to "move beyond what divides us" and sacrifice "personal preferences" for the national interest.

After another tumultuous week in Westminster which saw tensions in the party reach boiling point, Mrs May used a letter to all 317 Conservative MPs to warn them: "History will judge us all for the parts we have played in this process."

She said: "I believe that a country with our innate strengths, enviable resources, and enormous talent can face the future with confidence that our best days lie ahead. But we stand now at a crucial moment.

Brexit: what could happen
"I do not underestimate how deeply or how sincerely colleagues hold the views which they do on this important issue – or that we are all motivated by a common desire to do what is best for our country, even if we disagree on the means of doing so.

"But I believe that a failure to make the compromises necessary to reach and take through Parliament a Withdrawal Agreement which delivers on the result of the referendum will let down the people who sent us to represent them and risk the bright future that they all deserve."

The Prime Minister will return to Brussels for further talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker this week, and intends to speak to the leaders of every EU member state over the coming days.

Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will meet the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Monday to discuss the proposals of the Alternative Arrangements Working Group of Tories, who have been seeking a compromise solution to avoid the need for backstop.

And Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will set out what changes would be required to eliminate the legal risk of being indefinitely trapped in the controversial Irish backstop in a speech on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, The Sunday Times reported that former Brexit minister Steve Baker told colleagues Mrs May's Brexit negotiations with Brussels were a "complete waste of time".

Tony Blair (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)
Tony Blair said Labour risked losing voters if its position of 'constructive ambiguity' becomes 'destructive indecision' (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)

It came as:

– International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told the Sunday Telegraph EU leaders were threatening their economies and risking defeats in upcoming elections if they failed to reach a Brexit agreement.

– CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn warned in the Sunday Times that Britain risks "slipping into an economic crisis" unless MPs stop a no-deal Brexit.

– Senior Tory Sir Graham Brady urged his colleagues to "pull together behind the Prime Minister for that final push to Brexit on 29th March".

Former prime minister Tony Blair told the Sunday Times that Labour risked losing voters if its position of "constructive ambiguity" becomes "destructive indecision", as he urged the party he once led to advocate a second referendum.

He said: "The risk for Labour is that over time what has been described as constructive ambiguity becomes destructive indecision, losing votes from leave people who think you're not really leave, and remain people who think you're not really for remain. I don't think it's the right political strategy."

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