The Prime Minister was forced to repeatedly defend her strategy as Tory grandees lined up to criticise everything from the Northern Irish border agreement to pledges around future economic security.Â Tory former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon described the deal as a “huge gamble”, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson argued it did not “provide certainty to business” and ex-Brexit secretary David Davis asked why Mrs May was not withholding the Â£39 billion divorce bill until a comprehensive trade agreement had been reached. Sir Michael said: “Well nobody can doubt that the Prime Minister has tried her very best, are we not nonetheless being asked to take a huge gamble here?
“Paying, leaving, surrendering our vote and our veto without any firm commitment to frictionless trade or the absolute right to dismantle external tariffs.
“Is it really wise to trust the future of our economy to a pledge simply to use best endeavours?”
Mrs May responded saying that it was not possible to sign a legally binding free trade agreement with the European Union until the UK had left the EU.
Mr Johnson earlier said: “It’s very hard to see how this deal can provide certainty to business or anyone else when you have half the Cabinet going around reassuring business that the UK is effectively going to remain in the customs union and in the single market, and the Prime Minister herself continuing to say that we are going to take back control of our laws, vary our tariffs and do as she said just now, real free trade deals. They can’t both be right: which is it?”
Mrs May replied: “What I said in my statement was that neither we nor the EU were entirely happy with the backstop arrangements that were put in place…
“I recognise a concern that has been expressed about our ability to negotiate free trade deals with other countries on the basis of the arrangement that we are putting in place with the European Union for our future relationship.
“We will be able to negotiate those free trade deals, but I think every member of this House should be aware that when those trade deals are being considered, there will be issues that this House will want to consider which will be nothing to do with whether or not we have a particular relationship with the European Union.”
Mr Davis asked why the UK was not withholding payment of the Â£39 billion divorce bill until after a trade deal was struck.
He said: “If the EU really intends in good faith to rapidly negotiate a future trade agreement why can we not make the second half of the Â£39 billion conditional on delivering it?”
Mrs May said there was a timetable for payments: “As he is aware from earlier negotiations we had on this particular issue, the Â£39 billion has been determined in relation to our legal obligations and I think it’s important that as a country we stand up to our legal obligations.
“As he will also know there’s a timetable for these payments and of course a key element of this is ensuring we’re able to have an implementation period which of course is so important for our businesses to ensure they only have to make one set of changes and there is a smooth and orderly transition.”
Former education secretary Justine Greening asked the Prime Minister what she would do to ensure the debate on her deal was “based on facts and evidence and not more false promises”.
Mrs May said the Government was committed to publishing analysis of the deal, but added: “I’m tempted to say this though, she asked whether this can be based on facts, I think it would be an interesting debate for this House, for the extent to which economic forecasts can actually be described as facts.”
Former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson told Mrs May he would be voting against the deal, adding: “The Conservative manifesto at the last election promised to deliver the leave vote by leaving the single market, leaving the customs union and leaving the remit of the European Court of Justice.
“Many of us, endorsed by experienced lawyers, believe that this document does not deliver that.”
But Mrs May received support from Tory former education secretary Nicky Morgan, who said: “It’s the easiest thing in the world for people to criticise any deal that they haven’t spent time negotiating, and it’s the easiest thing in the world for people to remain in their entrenched positions they’ve been in for the last two years.
“Actually the braver thing, and the right thing for this country now, is to challenge ourselves on our views on Brexit – to step up the plate as elected representatives and to give this deal the scrutiny that it needs, to read carefully the economic forecast the Government is going to publish, and to realise that what will cost us far more than Â£39 billion is a no deal Brexit which needs to be avoided.”