Sunday 16 December 2018

Theresa May gets thrown a lifeline, and denies split with DUP over Brexit proposal

  • Relief for British PM as Gove stays on
  • Irish shares suffer a hammering after Brexit bedlam
British Environment Secretary Michael Gove arrives at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Westminster. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images
British Environment Secretary Michael Gove arrives at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Westminster. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Andrew Woodcock, Gavin Cordon, David Hughes and Jennifer McKiernan

MICHAEL GOVE has thrown beleaguered British Prime Minister Theresa May a lifeline after deciding that he will remain in her Government as Environment Secretary.

Following the resignation of four ministers in the wake of her poorly-received Brexit deal on Thursday, speculation was rife that the departure of the most senior Leave campaigner in her Cabinet could deal a damaging blow to Mrs May.

But a source close to Mr Gove told the Press Association: "Michael is staying at Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

"He thinks it is important to continue working with Cabinet colleagues to ensure the best outcome for the country."

Asked whether she could afford the loss of Mr Gove from her team, Mrs May told radio station LBC: "I want all of my colleagues in the Cabinet to feel able to carry on doing the excellent job they are doing."

Mr Gove was reported to have been offered the post of Brexit Secretary vacated by Dominic Raab, but to have said he would only take it if he could renegotiate the EU withdrawal agreement.

Prime Minister Theresa May holds a press conference at 10 Downing Street to discuss her Brexit plans. Picture: PA
Prime Minister Theresa May holds a press conference at 10 Downing Street to discuss her Brexit plans. Picture: PA

Mrs May said she had "a very good conversation" with Mr Gove on Thursday, but declined to say what they had discussed, other than the future of the fishing industry after Brexit.

She denied that she had had a "testy exchange" over Brexit with Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, which props up her minority administration in the Commons.

But she left no doubt she was aware she cannot guarantee DUP support when Brexit comes to the Commons, saying: "Every individual MP will decide how they will vote, whether they are DUP, Conservative, Labour.

"My job is to persuade first and foremost my Conservative benches, those who are working with us - the DUP are working with us, obviously, confidence and supply - but I want to be able to say to every MP I believe this is the best deal for the UK."

Meanwhile, The first signs of Brexit's true impact on Ireland have hit as investors fear Mrs May's proposed deal is already dead.

As a string of her ministers jumped ship, the Irish stock market took a €3.3bn hit, worse than anywhere in Europe. The rapidly unfolding crisis hammered Irish shares, leaving top-tier companies including Ryanair and Bank of Ireland facing big losses.

Despite the optimistic tones initially struck about Wednesday's deal, plans for a no-deal scenario are continuing unabated in Dublin.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney told the Irish Independent: "All of that work continues because we can't take anything for granted, that's for sure."

However, the Government remains coy about the full extent of the preparations already in place.

The Revenue Commissioners are preparing to hire more customs officials to support trade from next April. Revenue chairman Niall Cody said: "I don't want people to come away from here saying everything will be all right.

"If it happens, there'll be big challenges. There'll be a lot of work involved but that's what we'll have to deal with."

Irish shares were hit hard yesterday, with €3.3bn wiped off their value.

Investors fled shares likely to be most affected if the UK crashes out of the European Union next March.

The turmoil gave exporters a glimpse of the pressure they will face if order isn't restored to UK politics in the coming weeks. The pound also took a dive, dropping nearly 2pc, its biggest fall this year.

Last night, Mrs May indicated she was determined to fight on despite a Cabinet revolt, an avalanche of attacks from MPs and letters seeking her resignation.

A key issue for the DUP, which props up her minority government, is a belief that Mrs May has abandoned Northern Ireland to EU rule.

It argues her agreement on a so-called 'backstop' aimed at maintaining an open border on this island will result in the North remaining fully aligned to EU regulations in the future.

DUP MP Nigel Dodds said: "The leadership of the Conservative Party is a matter for the Conservative Party but what we want to see is a Tory leader that will actually deliver on Brexit and most importantly, match their actions with their words when it comes to the integrity of the union."

Dominic Raab, who resigned as Brexit Secretary yesterday, also claimed he was concerned that the proposed deal undermined the UK's integrity.

He stood down despite being centrally involved in the negotiations with Brussels since replacing David Davis as secretary last July.

Asked about Mr Raab's statement, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said: "What we have done is change the backstop essentially to try and accommodate British concerns to ensure there would be no customs checks between Britain and Ireland, to address a concern both he and the prime minster outlined."

Amid the drama, Mr Coveney briefly met DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Republic of Ireland versus Northern Ireland soccer match in the Aviva Stadium last night.

However, the Irish Government will not be making any direct intervention into the dispute. A decision has been taken not to try and lobby individual Conservative MPs or the leaders of Westminster's other parties, including Labour's Jeremy Corbyn. But Mr Coveney did encourage Mrs May to be "tough, resilient and persuasive" in the days ahead.

The embattled prime minister defended her Brexit deal both in the Commons and during an evening press conference. She attempted to bat away the resignations of Mr Raab and her pensions minister, Esther McVey. Two junior ministers, two ministerial aides and the party vice-chairman also jumped ship.

Speaking on Friday, Mrs May played down suggestions that she might seek to maintain Cabinet unity by offering ministers a free vote when the Brexit deal comes before Parliament.

"There is Cabinet collective responsibility in this country. Government policy is Government policy," she told LBC. "The Government will put its position to the House of Commons."

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