Friday 19 April 2019

'At least it's a step forward' - Rees-Mogg confirms he will back the Withdrawal Agreement if the DUP will

MPs voted to seize control of Brexit as May suffers fresh humiliation

Jacob Rees-Mogg tabled the amendments to the bill. Picture: PA
Jacob Rees-Mogg tabled the amendments to the bill. Picture: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

JACOB Rees-Mogg has now said that he is prepared to back the Withdrawal Agreement.

Theresa May will face Tory MPs on Wednesday as she battles to save her premiership and her Brexit deal.

The British Prime Minister will address the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee as MPs consider alternatives to her Brexit strategy after seizing control of the Commons timetable.

Influential backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg has now said that he is prepared to back the deal.

"I apologise for changing my mind," he wrote in a UK newspaper. "I am now willing to support it if the Democratic Unionist Party does, and by doing so will be accused of infirmity of purpose by some and treachery by others."

Mr Rees-Mogg said he change allegiances "because the numbers in Parliament make it clear that all the other potential outcomes are worse and an awkward reality needs to be faced".

A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May making a statement in the House of Commons in London. Photo: MARK DUFFY/AFP/Getty Images
A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May making a statement in the House of Commons in London. Photo: MARK DUFFY/AFP/Getty Images

"A long delay would make remaining in the EU the most likely outcome," he said.

The MP concluded: "Theresa May’s deal is a more faltering step than I want, or feel, could be taken —but at least it is a step forward."

The prospect of MPs voting in support of a soft Brexit or second referendum appears to be winning some Tory Eurosceptics round to reluctantly backing her deal, but there has been widespread speculation that others might demand Mrs May sets out the timetable for her departure as the price for their support.

Mrs May's fragile authority suffered another blow as three ministers last night quit to back a Parliament amendment enabling MPs to take control of House of Commons business to stage a series of "indicative votes" on alternatives to her deal.

Mr Rees-Mogg earlier said: "the choice seems to be Mrs May's deal or no Brexit".

The chairman of the European Research Group of Tory Eurosceptic MPs, said “the choice seems to be Mrs May’s deal or no Brexit”.

His comments will give hope to Mrs May that she can still get the Withdrawal Agreement through the House of Commons before April 12.

MPs voted last night to ‘take back control’ and will tomorrow vote on a series of options ranging from no deal to a second referendum or even revoking Article 50.

Mr Rees-Mogg said it was now clear Mrs May would not deliver a no-deal Brexit and as a result Eurosceptic MPs would “eventually” face the choice between the PM’s agreement or staying in the EU.

He told the ConservativeHome podcast: "Whether we are there yet is another matter but I have always thought that no deal is better than Mrs May's deal but Mrs May's deal is better than not leaving at all.

"There is a sort of hierarchy of choice and if the choice is the one you suggest then inevitably leaving the European Union, even leaving it inadequately and having work to do afterwards, is better than not leaving at all."

Mr Rees-Mogg went even further in a tweet when he said: "The choice seems to be Mrs May’s deal or no Brexit."

The three ministers who quit were among 30 Conservative MPs to defy the whips and support the cross-party amendment which was passed by 329 to 302 - a majority of 27 - in another humiliating reverse for Mrs May.

The defeat heaps further pressure on Mrs May's position and could increase the chances of an early general election if MPs back plans for a softer Brexit which would be unacceptable to the Prime Minister or Tory Eurosceptics.

At Tuesday's regular Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister is expected to be confronted with calls for free votes on the rival options.

"Many around the Cabinet table will argue for a free vote so Parliament can truly show what it would support," a Cabinet source said.

Alistair Burt, who quit his British Foreign Office role in order to vote for the Commons amendment, said: "Parliament should seek urgently to resolve the situation by considering alternatives freely, without the instruction of party whips, and Government should adopt any feasible outcome as its own in order to progress matters.

"I did not believe the Government was prepared to do that, so had to vote to ensure this happens."

Steve Brine, who quit as a health minister, suggested the revolt in favour of the indicative votes amendment could actually boost the chances of Mrs May's deal finally getting through by persuading Tory Eurosceptics such as Mr Rees-Mogg it was the best form of Brexit on offer.

"Those on my side who don't like the deal, maybe they will realise that the House of Commons is prepared to act," he told the BBC.

"And, anything from here, as far as they are concerned, gets softer in terms of Brexit."

He added: "You have to accept that a second referendum or revoking Article 50 are on the table because they will probably be some options."

The 2017 Tory manifesto ruled out membership of the single market and customs union and Mrs May told MPs on Monday that "no one would want to support an option that contradicted the manifesto on which they stood for election to this House".

But Mr Brine said: "You also have to remember that the manifesto of 2017 did not win a majority in the House of Commons."

The vote came after the Prime Minister acknowledged that she still did not have sufficient support to bring back her deal to the Commons for a third "meaningful vote".

She said she would continue her efforts to build support for the deal - defeated by 230 votes in January and 149 votes in March - and stage a vote before the end of the week.

The European Council last week set a deadline of Friday for her to secure parliamentary approval for her Withdrawal Agreement if the UK is to leave the EU with a deal on May 22.

If she cannot get it through the Commons, then the UK has until April 12 to propose a different approach or crash out of the EU without a deal.

Her admission came shortly after a phone call with DUP leader Arlene Foster, who made clear the Northern Irish party was not giving up its opposition.

With additional reporting from Press Association

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