Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox and other Eurosceptics were understood to be convinced that changes could still be made to the so-called “Northern Ireland backstop” despite the EU’s insistence that the text of the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be revised. One proposal being floated involves ensuring the backstop – designed to prevent full-scale customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic – is turned into a bi-lateral arrangement between London and Dublin rather than involving the entire EU. Supporters of the plan believe it would prevent Brussels using the backstop as a ruse for keeping Britain locked in a customs union permanently.
The ministers believe the idea and other guarantees can be attached as an “addendum” to the Withdrawal Agreement in time for the EU Summit this Sunday called for European leaders to back the deal.
One Eurosceptic Cabinet minister said: “There is a very creative mood in the Government. People are open to ideas to sort his out.
“Everyone around the Cabinet table wants to work together to find creative solutions to the outstanding issues.
“Even if the main text of the Withdrawal Agreement is set in stone, it must be possible to add changes in other ways such as attaching an addendum or an appendix to it.
“In any international negotiation, you always find that diplomats are capable of finding ways of amending a text right up to the moment when it is agreed.”
Eurosceptic ministers hope that securing last-gasp concessions could mollify Tory Brexiteer MPs currently threatening to vote down the deal in the Commons next month.
It also emerged yesterday that Chief Whip Julian Smith has advised the Prime Minister that she must wring more concessions out of the EU to have any hope of winning Commons backing for the deal in a crunch vote next month.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday set her face against any change to the deal to give the UK the independent right to end the backstop.
She told the German Parliament: “We have placed value, and I think this is right, on the fact that Britain cannot decide unilaterally when it ends the state of the customs union, but that Britain must decide this together with the EU.”
Mrs Merkel said that Germany will back the proposed withdrawal agreement at Sunday’s summit, and hoped that objections raised by Spain to the treatment of Gibraltar would be “solved” by this time.
Tory backbenchers sounded fresh warnings about the potential risks of the backstop during Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons yesterday.
Senior Tory Andrew Rosindell, MP for Romford, told Mrs May her plan risked leaving the UK tied up in the “tentacles” of the EU.
He said: “I agree with the people of Romford. They are deeply unhappy about the proposed EU deal, which they believe does not represent the Brexit for which they voted.
“Will the Prime Minister now please think again, even at this late stage, and instead lead our country in a new direction, completely cutting away the tentacles of the EU from our cherished island nation once and for all?”
Neil Tiverton, Tory MP for Tiverton and Honiton, told her: “The Northern Ireland backstop threatens the integrity of the United Kingdom and weakens our negotiating position.”
Acknowledging she faced “a difficult and tough job”, he added: “We should not hand over £39 billion before we get the deal.
“Please will the Prime Minister listen to these concerns and renegotiate the deal before we put it before the House?”
Defending the deal, Mrs May told MPs: “I think that people across the country who voted to leave the European Union voted to bring an end to free movement. Our deal delivers an end to free movement.
“They voted to bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. Our deal delivers an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
“They voted for us to stop sending vast sums of money to the European Union every year so that we could spend that money on our priorities, and we will be able to spend it on priorities such as the National Health Service.”