Tuesday 11 December 2018

Theresa May has turbulent day of high-profile resignations and backlash

  • Theresa May has turbulent day of high-profile resignations
  • European Council President Donald Tusk signals that he still hopes Brexit can be averted
  • British Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab in shock resignation
  • Work and pensions secretary also resigns from Cabinet
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg hands in letter of no-confidence in May
  • May's Brexit deal 'turned out to be worse than anticipated and fails to meet the promises given' - Rees-Mogg
  • Junior minister for Northern Ireland also quits
  • Andrea Leadsom vows to support Theresa May
  • Raises questions whether Theresa May is set to face vote of confidence
  • There may not 'a majority for any way forward in Westminster' - Simon Coveney
Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, arrives back at 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, arrives back at 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May returns after making a statement concerning Brexit negotiations outside 10 Downing Street, in London. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

EMBATTLED UK prime minister Theresa May has had a turbulent day of high profile ministerial resignations and backlash against the deal.

It is reported that Mrs May has offered the job of Brexit secretary to Michael Gove - his decision is believed by many to be key to the survival of the Tory leader.

Today letters to the 1922 Committee have been pouring in seeking a 'no confidence' vote in Mrs May - there must be 48 to trigger such a vote.

Meanwhile, European Council President Donald Tusk has signalled that he still hopes Brexit can be averted but said the EU is prepared if there is a "no-deal scenario".

Speaking as chaos continues in Westminster over the proposed Withdrawal Agreement wiht the UK, Mr Tusk said the EU "is prepared for a final deal with the United Kingdom in November."

He also told reporters in Brussels that; "We are also prepared for a no-deal scenario but of course we are best prepared for a no-Brexit scenario."

After a days of resignations among her ministers, British Prime Minister Theresa May is due to give a press conference at 5pm.

Resignations

Earlier, the British Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and three other ministers resigned over Theresa May's Brexit deal, in a massive blow to her plans.

Mr Raab, who only took over in the summer after David Davis resigned in protest over the British Prime Minister's withdrawal strategy, said he "cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU".

Former British Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab. Photo: Getty Images
Former British Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab. Photo: Getty Images

His surprise departure on Thursday came amid a furious backlash from Brexit-backing Conservatives to the deal agreed by UK and EU negotiators four months ahead of the UK's scheduled withdrawal on March 29.

Hours earlier Shailesh Vara had quit as minister of state for Northern Ireland, saying Mrs May's agreement, "leaves the UK in a halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally be a sovereign nation".

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has handed in his letter of no-confidence to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, saying Ms May's Brexit deal "has turned out to be worse than anticipated and fails to meet the promises given to the nation by the Prime Minister".

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Raab said the deal represented a "very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom" because of provisions for Northern Ireland.

He also said he could not accept "an indefinite backstop arrangement" for the Irish border.

He said: "No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement."

The work and pensions secretary Esther McVey has also stepped down on Thursday morning.

She said the Brexit deal “does not honour the result of the referendum”.

In a resignation letter posted on Twitter, Ms McVey cited concerns over the future of the Union and a lack of control over money, law, borders and trade policy under a deal she felt kept the UK too close to Brussels.

She wrote: "The British people have always been ahead of politicians on this issue, and it will be no good trying to pretend to them that this deal honours the result of the referendum when it is obvious to everyone that it doesn't.

"We have gone from no deal is better than a bad deal, to any deal is better than no deal.

"I cannot defend this, and I cannot vote for this deal. I could not look my constituents in the eye were I to do that.

"I therefore have no alternative but to resign from the Government."

Suella Braverman has also resigned as a Brexit minister, her office said.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan has resigned as a parliamentary private secretary in the Department for Education, saying she cannot support the Brexit deal after negotiations “built on the UK trying to appease the EU”.

Mr Raab added: "Above all, I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election.

"This is, at its heart, a matter of public trust."

Ms May is due to hold a press conference at 5pm.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said there may not be “a majority for any way forward in Westminster” as UK minsters resign over the Brexit deal.

Taking questions on the draft deal in the Dáil, Mr Coveney said it would “protect Ireland’s core interests now and into the future”.

He praised the work of Irish diplomats involved in the negotiations over the past two years, saying they did an “extraordinary job to build and maintain EU unity around many off the Irish vulnerabilities”.

And he said the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier had shown “extraordinary capacity to understand the detail” of the Irish concerns.

Asked by Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien about the instability in the UK government, Mr Coveney replied: “Of course there are challenges to selling any package in United Kingdom.

“Many people would say there isn’t a majority for any way forward in Westminister.”

But he added that British Prime Minister Theresa May has “shown a capacity to get things done in very difficult circumstances”.

Mr O’Brien questioned whether the Government had been too triumphalist in their public statements since the deal was published.

“The time for victory and celebration is when this draft agreement is ratified and satisfied by all,” he said, adding that “every statement being made in Ireland is being scrutinised”.

However, Mr Coveney rejected this claim. He argued that the Government had a duty to explain what was in the deal to the Irish people.

The Minister said he was giving “reassurance” to people who were “very sceptical that a deal could be done” to maintain open trade on this island.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mrs May spoke by phone this morning, Independent.ie has learned.

It is understood Mr Varadkar offered the embattled PM his “support” amid a string of ministerial resignations in Westminster.

They pledged to “work together” on the future relationship between the UK and EU so that the Irish backstop “never needs to be invoked”.

Earlier, the Brexit deal that ensures no hard Border on this island was hailed as a major victory for Ireland.

While Mr Varadkar said Brexit is "something we regret", he insisted the best possible Withdrawal Agreement has been negotiated.

He said other EU members had taken on Irish concerns and helped protect the peace process, the common travel area and our economy.

"This is one of the better days in politics," he said.

Mr Varadkar praised Mrs May for being "true to her word" by ensuring there will be no hard Border.

Andrea Leadsom has insisted she has no plans to quit the Government and will support Theresa May in securing a Brexit deal.

The Commons Leader, who attends the UK Cabinet as part of her role, hit back after her SNP counterpart Pete Wishart joked she had upset his "Brexit resignation bingo coupon", adding: "I had her definitely down as a resigner."

Mrs Leadsom replied: "Normally I'm very happy to entertain (Mr Wishart's) banter but I think all he's done today is to demonstrate he's not very good at bingo."

She added: "I am staying in Government because there is more work to be done to get the Brexit that the Prime Minister wants to deliver to the people, and therefore I am determined to support her to do that.

"Now, him bantering about it and mocking it is all very well, but he doesn't suggest anything else and his party has form for ignoring the will of a referendum in Scotland that voted to stay in the United Kingdom.

"What are they doing sitting there? All they want to do is break up the United Kingdom, and against the will of Scottish fishers keep them in the Common Fisheries Policy. How much sense does that make?"

The pair's exchanges came at business questions and amid the backdrop of Cabinet resignations over Mrs May's draft Brexit withdrawal agreement.

However, there will now be major concerns that the ministerial resignations in London will be followed by more in the British Cabinet - meaning that any deal Brexit will once again be up in the air.

Representatives from the SDLP, Sinn Fein, Alliance and the Northern Ireland Green Party have arrived at the Department of the Taoiseach in Dublin for a meeting with Mr Varadkar to discuss the draft Brexit agreement.

SDLP leader Colm Eastwood said: "It will be a difficult few days for Theresa May but we need to focus on the positive and make sure the backstop is backed."

Meeting

The resignations came as European Council president Donald Tusk announced an extraordinary meeting of EU leaders in Brussels on November 25, at which the withdrawal agreement and a political declaration on future relations will be finalised and formalised.

Westminster is braced for further resignations, amid widespread expectations that the British Prime Minister may face a challenge to her position from Conservative MPs submitting letters of no confidence in her leadership.

Mr Raab had been a surprise choice as Brexit Secretary when Mr Davis, along with foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit minister Steve Baker, resigned in protest at Mrs May's Chequers plan in July.

As the UK's ministerial point man in negotiations he made repeated trips to Brussels for talks with EU negotiator Michel Barnier as he and civil servants tried to hammer out a workable withdrawal agreement.

The pound fell heavily against most major currencies after his resignation. Sterling dropped 1.1pc to 1.28 US dollars and was 1.2pc lower at 1.13 euros.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said the Government was "falling apart before our eyes as, for a second time, the Brexit Secretary has refused to back the Prime Minister's Brexit plan".

"This is the 20th minister to resign from Theresa May's Government in her two-year premiership," he said.

"Theresa May has no authority left and is clearly incapable of delivering a Brexit deal that commands even the support of her Cabinet, let alone Parliament and the people of our country."

Remain-supporting Tory MP Anna Soubry added on Twitter that Mr Raab's resignation "marks the end of PMs Withdrawal Agreement" and possibly her premiership.

Ms Soubry added: "No PM deserves to be so badly treated.

"Raab signed up to her Withdrawal Agreement allowing her to make her statement after Cabinet knowing he'd resign in time for the 9am News bulletins the next morning. Shameful."

Mrs May 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.

In a resignation statement, North-West Cambridgeshire MP Mr Vara - who was promoted by Mrs May as recently as July - said: "We are a proud nation and it is a say day when we are reduced to obeying rules made by other countries who have shown that they do not have our best interests at heart.

"We can and must do better than this. The people of the UK deserve better."

Mr Vara, a former Conservative vice chairman who has served as a whip and on the frontbenches for the bulk of his career since entering Parliament in 2005, backed Remain in the 2016 referendum.

In Brussels, Mr Tusk was handed a copy of the 585-page withdrawal agreement by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Ministers and ambassadors of the remaining 27 EU states will work to finalise by next Tuesday the political declaration on future relations with the UK, published in outline form on Wednesday, he said.

Welcoming the UK Cabinet's collective agreement to accept the withdrawal document, Mr Tusk said: "Of course, I do not share the Prime Minister's enthusiasm about Brexit as such.

"Since the very beginning, we have had no doubt that Brexit is a lose-lose situation and our negotiations are only about damage control."

And he sent a message to the British people: "As much as I am sad to see you leave, I will do everything to make this farewell the least painful possible, both for you and for us."

More to follow

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