Last night senior Brexiteers said the recent breakthrough in negotiations had strengthened Britain’s hand – and it is now time to act.
Crucial talks are set to start on Britain’s future relationship with the EU this week, with MPs claiming the behaviour of Brussels’ negotiators revealed that they both “need and want” a free-trade deal with the UK .
The 15-page agreement – which satisfied the condition of “sufficient progress” being made on citizens rights, Northern Ireland and the financial settlement – entrenched Mrs May’s caveat that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
It also means Britain can withdraw its offer of paying up to £39billion to the EU if no deal is reached. Leading Eurosceptics have been emboldened by the sudden urgency with which EU chiefs Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk reacted to the talks appearing to fall apart at the beginning of last week following an intervention by DUP leader Arlene Foster.
Theresa May should demand a ‘gold-plated’ trade deal from the EU say Brexiteers
The Prime Minister has done well to secure a deal that Brexiteers can live with
Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “Arlene Foster saved the day and the Prime Minister has done well to secure a deal that Brexiteers can live with. “It’s not perfect but what it shows is that we’ve offered the EU a huge pot of money and if we don’t get what we want, the Government must show it is willing to walk away.”
Tory MP John Redwood, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, said: “The two most important elements to take from this agreement are – nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and no deal is better than a bad deal. “If everything does not now go smoothly, the Government should be clear that it will not give that money and all talks are off.
“What was interesting about last week’s developments is how panicky the EU became when it seemed that the agreement was falling apart. We need to capitalise on that.
“Nearly £40billion is a lot of money to the EU – but the agreement made clear we do not regard it as a legal debt. It must be approved by parliamentary powers and that will not happen if we don’t get a gold-plated trade deal.”
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Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said Monday’s failure to strike a deal proved to the EU that it needed to work to make it happen. He said the reaction by the EU was “fascinating” as it suddenly realised it was “staring down the eyes of a no deal”.
He added: “They got into action for the first time for many months.
“The EU recognised they really do need and want a free-trade agreement with the UK and were prepared to do what was necessary to get it. That’s interesting to us going forward.”
Former Brexit minister David Jones said: “I think there’s no doubt the EU wants an agreement. We are in a position of strength because when we’ve left we will be the biggest export market for EU goods.”
In last month’s Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond set aside a £3billion contingency pot in the event of no deal being reached and the UK trading with the EU under World Trade Organisation rules.
There is already disagreement between Brexiteers and Remainers over the interpretation of clause 49 of the agreement, which states that in the event of a no deal, the UK will maintain “full alignment” with the single market and customs union when it comes to the Northern Ireland border, in line with the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
Iain Duncan Smith said the EU realised it was ‘staring down the eyes of a no deal’
Remainers claim alignment means continuing to abide by all of the EU’s rules, but Brexiteers argue it only amounts to “equivalence”, meaning the UK would mirror the EU’s regulations to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes without actually having to adopt them. They say the fact that the word “regulatory” was removed from the original text that was disputed by the DUP means alignment will now be open to a much wider legal interpretation.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove, a leading figure in the Leave campaign, said yesterday that Northern Ireland would only remain aligned to Ireland “in those areas necessary to keep cross-border co-operation”.
He added: “The integrity of the United Kingdom is inviolable.”
In an article approved by Number 10, he also said that after the two-year transition period imposed by both sides, Britain will have the “full freedom to diverge from EU law on the single market and customs union”.
He wrote: “The British people will be in control. If the British people dislike the agreement we have negotiated, the agreement will allow a future Government to diverge.” The Prime Minister has called a “Brexit war cabinet” meeting for next Monday to be followed by a full Cabinet meeting the next day for ministers to discuss Britain’s final relationship with the EU.
Mr Gove and fellow Brexiteers Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox are expected to push for a “low-tax, low-regulation” regime to make Britain as competitive as possible.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove was a leading figure in the Leave campaign
On the other hand, Mr Hammond and fellow Remainers including Home Secretary Amber Rudd are said to favour a strategy that keeps Britain more closely aligned to the EU.
One senior source said that the “real battle begins now” over Britain’s post-Brexit future. In the meantime, Theresa May will travel to Brussels on Thursday for a meeting of the EU Council, where she is expected to hold “exploratory talks” on the trade deal and the terms of the two-year transition period.
European Council president Mr Tusk has warned that the trade talks will be even harder than phase one. He said: “We all know that breaking up is hard but breaking up and building a new relationship is much harder.”
Downing Street last week welcomed the remarks by both Mr Tusk and European Commission president Mr Juncker, describing the agreement as a “personal victory” for the Prime Minister.
After what a Number 10 insider described as her “annus horribilis”, Mrs May is now in a stronger position than anyone would have thought possible.
Theresa May and European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels
It comes after a premiership plagued by setbacks, including a conference coughing fit and pornography being found on Damian Green’s computer.
A senior minister said: “Being in the Conservative Party started to feel a bit like living on Albert Square.
“There’s been so many disasters we’re all starting to get de-sensitised.”
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage claims Tory Brexiteers are angrier than they are making out about the agreement, but are remaining loyal to Mrs May because they do not want another general election.
He told the BBC: “Within the next 48 hours you will hear a lot more Conservative voices saying they are not happy with what has happened today.”