May urges EU leaders to help persuade MPs to back Brexit deal

Theresa May will plead with European Union leaders to give ground in order to help her Brexit deal survive next week’s Commons showdown.

After talks earlier this week in Brussels broke down, the Prime Minister said the decisions made by the European Union in the coming days would have a “big impact” on the fate of the deal.

MPs will vote on Tuesday on whether to back the Withdrawal Agreement as Mrs May seeks further concessions on the Northern Ireland backstop in order to reverse the humiliating 230-vote defeat suffered the last time the Commons passed judgment on her Brexit deal.

Mrs May’s call for action from the EU came as Cabinet minister Liam Fox warned that Brexit might not happen at all unless MPs get behind the deal.

The Prime Minister will use a speech in Leave-voting Grimsby to say the Government remains determined to secure legally binding changes to the backstop, and will urge the EU to agree.

“Just as MPs will face a big choice next week, the EU has to make a choice too,” she will say.

“We are both participants in this process.

“It is in the European interest for the UK to leave with a deal.

“We are working with them but the decisions that the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote.”

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that Theresa May will not be able to deliver the changes she promised to her failed Brexit deal.

“This speech looks set to be an admission of failure.”

International Trade Secretary Dr Fox urged Tory Brexiteers to rally behind the deal in order to ensure the UK does break away from Brussels.

“The thing that I fear is that there will be … a risk that we might not deliver Brexit at all,” he told BBC’s Newsnight.

“In Parliament there are a large number of MPs who do not see it as their primary objective to deliver on the referendum and would want to keep us locked to the European Union.”

In a message to fellow Brexiteers, he added: “You can never allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good, many of us have made compromises throughout this process.

“The quicker we can rally behind a common position that shows we have a united front in terms of how we want to approach the future, the better.”

But European Research Group deputy chairman Mark Francois told Newsnight: “We will look very carefully at what – if anything – comes back from Brussels and then we will take a decision.

“But if it is some very minor, meaningless tweak then of course we will vote against it.”

Negotiators are preparing to work through the weekend in a frantic effort to break the deadlock over the backstop measures, which are aimed at preventing a hard border with Ireland if no alternative trading arrangements are in place.

The European Commission confirmed “technical talks” were continuing and said president Jean-Claude Juncker was “available 24/7” to meet Mrs May if a deal was close.

In the Commons, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox – who has been leading for the UK in the latest negotiations – said the talks would “almost certainly” carry on through the weekend.

Stephen Barclay and Geoffrey Cox are expected to continue pushing for changes to the Brexit backstop (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Stephen Barclay and Geoffrey Cox are expected to continue pushing for changes to the Brexit backstop (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In practical terms the Government needs an agreement by Sunday night at the latest as any new documentation relating to the deal must be published by Monday – the day before the vote.

Number 10 is believed to hope a deal can be reached by Sunday night, with the possibility of the Prime Minister travelling to Brussels on Monday morning to meet Mr Juncker.

Ministers were said to be braced for another heavy defeat on Tuesday after the previous “meaningful vote” was lost by a majority of 230, with many MPs deeply unhappy about the backstop.

Mr Cox told MPs he was continuing to press for legally binding changes to the backstop that would ensure the UK could not be tied indefinitely to EU rules.

He rejected claims that the Government had again failed to come forward with concrete proposals, insisting there had been “focused, detailed and careful discussions”.

However there was clear frustration on the EU side, with chief negotiator Michel Barnier reportedly complaining that Mr Cox had produced “a legal solution to a political problem” and France’s Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau saying they were still waiting for a “sustainable proposal” from the British side.

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