Mark Harper forecast the Democratic Unionist Party would tear up its pact to support the minority government in key votes, leaving the Government suffering damaging daily defeats in the Commons votes. He was Tory Chief Whip until Mrs May became PM in 2016 and dropped him from government but had until this week remained publicly supportive. Today he announced he will rebel for the first time in 13 years as an MP when the Commons votes on the deal next Tuesday, unless the PM promises to get the Irish “backstop” proposal removed.
It makes him one of at least 104 Tories from both sides of the European Union debate threatening to revolt on Tuesday.
His particular concern is the “backstop” that would keep the whole UK in the EU customs union until a new deal was done, if an alternative solution to keeping the Irish-Northern Ireland border open is not found in time.
He said it would leave the EU in charge, and could even stop firms in Northern Ireland trading with those in the rest of the UK, if regulations diverged.
It was also unnecessary since the EU, UK and Ireland all vowed there would be no new “hard border”, while it could so “cripple” Britain’s negotiating power that we ended up with a “very bad” EU trade deal lasting decades.
No amendments or words added to the motion for next week’s vote would solve the problem, he insisted.
Mrs May must instead be ready to tell Brussels it must remove the backstop or she will not get it through Parliament.
If she did somehow win the vote next week it could destroy her alliance with the DUP.
He said: “It’s my belief that the relationship between our DUP allies and the PM would be fractured beyond repair.
“What we saw yesterday when we were defeated three times in this House would be a state of affairs repeated day after day after day.
“We would be in office but unable to govern our country effectively.”
He was also dismayed the Government was ready to pay the EU £39billion as part of the legally binding withdrawal agreement before it had secured good trade terms, which are to be hammered out in future talks.
Mr Harper told the House: “I regret being put in a position where in order to hold to the promises we made in our election manifesto, I am forced to vote against a proposition put before us by our Prime Minister.
“But it’s important in politics that we keep our promises because that is how we maintain the trust of the British people.”