At least four more Remainer ministers are on the brink of quitting after Boris Johnson’s brother Jo resigned on Friday. Tory Brexiteers and the Democratic Unionist Party also warned they are prepared to torpedo Mrs May’s proposed deal. Brexiteer Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the European Research Group of Conservative backbenchers, and the DUP’s Sammy Wilson said they would oppose any agreement which they believed threatened the union and could put a trade border down the Irish Sea.
Any hope Mrs May had of getting the Cabinet to sign off her Brexit deal proposals this week appear to be vanishing after it was reported that Brussels had rejected her plans for a clause that could allow the UK to quit a backstop deal for the Northern Ireland border in a bid to convince Brexiteers the UK will not be trapped indefinitely.
But sources in London and Brussels say the EU has dismissed the idea, increasing the risk the UK will now be forced into a no-deal Brexit.
A source said Mrs May’s plan is the Government’s “life-support”, adding: “By rejecting the proposal, the EU has turned off the oxygen.”
Education Secretary Damian Hinds confirmed yesterday that the Government had dropped calls for a hard end-date or unilateral exit from a backstop. He said there was no point asking Brussels for something that could not be negotiated but insisted MPs should get a package that would give them “comfort that it is not an open-ended thing”.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, who is among Eurosceptic ministers put on “resignation watch” by Mrs May’s allies, warned that the UK “cannot be held against its will in a customs arrangement”.
No 10 sought to calm Tory MPs’ nerves by insisting that the Government would not strike an agreement “at any cost” and surrender to EU demands. But Ms Leadsom hinted that she will quit the Cabinet if the deal risks keeping the UK locked in a customs union. No 10 had hoped to reach an agreement with the EU last week, to allow it to be put before the Cabinet by tomorrow.
Brussels has privately told the Government that if the green light is not given by Wednesday, it would be too late to trigger a vital EU summit before December – meaning that the Commons vote on the deal would be pushed back until after Christmas.
The EU demands the UK should stay within a temporary customs partnership, the “backstop” to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
If Mrs May agrees she faces the prospect of a mass Cabinet walkout. MP Andrew Bridgen told the Eurosceptic Bruges Group think-tank: “If we can’t chuck Chequers it’s time to chuck the Prime Minister.”
Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood admitted troops could be deployed if required if there was no deal.
LET’S PAY THE EU £20bn TO BREAK BREXIT DEADLOCK, PLEADS REES-MOGG
BRITAIN should offer a one-off £20billion payment to end the Brexit impasse, Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg urged yesterday.
He suggested offering the deal to Brussels to “make our departure as amicable as possible”.
Previously critical of the £39billion divorce bill the UK is set to pay the EU, Mr Rees-Mogg wrote in a Sunday newspaper article: “It is time for convinced Brexiteers like me to compromise. So, at this late hour in the negotiations, we would like to make a new, generous offer to break the deadlock, to achieve a ‘No Deal Plus’. It would cost us money but it would finally dispel the ‘crash out’ Project Fear nightmare scenarios.”
He added: “We should offer Brussels £20billion to make our departure as amicable as possible.
“Under it, we would leave on schedule on March 29.
“However, for a 21-month transition period until the end of 2020, both sides would maintain a standstill with zero tariffs on either’s goods and no additional barriers.”
Mr Rees-Mogg, who is chairman of the European Research Group of MPs, also hit out at Theresa May.
“As the PM stubbornly refuses to accept the comprehensive free trade deal offered by the EU, colloquially known as ‘super Canada’, the final hope must be that when she said no deal is better than a bad deal, she actually meant it,” he said.