Taking the Devil’s name in vain: how the government may be deliberately misleading members of parliament about the legality of its Northern Irish Protocol proposals – a follow-on from yesterday’s post – The Law and Policy Blog

Theresa May’s Brexit unity plea shattered by leaked WhatsApp messages

The prime minister wrote to all 317 Tory MPs yesterday

Theresa May made a desperate appeal for unity this weekend as a leader of the party’s hardline Eurosceptic wing warned that continuing with her Brexit deal risked splitting the Conservative Party.

The prime minister wrote to all 317 Tory MPs yesterday urging them to back her deal by sacrificing “personal preferences” to unite in the “higher service of the national interest”.

The letter was sent hours after The Sunday Times received leaked WhatsApp messages revealing that Steve Baker, the deputy chairman of the 100-strong European Research Group (ERG), told colleagues that May’s Brexit negotiations with Brussels were a “complete waste of time”.

In a message on Friday, Baker said Downing Street and Brussels were pretending to negotiate while “working together to run down the clock to force [May’s] deal through” with few changes.

Baker said the ERG had to “insist” that the Irish backstop — an insurance policy to prevent the return of a hard border in Ireland that could lock Britain into an indefinite customs union with the EU — be removed from May’s withdrawal agreement. The alternative, according to the leaked messages from Baker, is to “just grind towards a party split”.

Baker told The Sunday Times: “What will it take for the PM to accept that we will not accept the backstop in its current form?”

Downing Street aides are increasingly worried that May is going to lose the crucial vote on the deal at the end of this month. Cabinet sources are also concerned that such a defeat would see parliament seize control of the Brexit negotiations.

On the same day, MPs are due to vote on an amendment by the former Labour minister Yvette Cooper and the Conservative grandee Sir Oliver Letwin that would force May to ask Brussels for a delay to Brexit.

A cabinet minister said it would be “high noon” for her deal, adding: “Unless the prime minister can show progress with Brussels by February 27, she will lose control of the entire process and we may lose Brexit altogether.”

With 40 days to go until the UK is due to leave the EU, Labour is equally divided over Brexit. Pro-remain MPs are furious that Jeremy Corbyn is refusing to follow the party’s policy agreed last year, which states Labour should seek a second referendum if it cannot force a general election.

The anti-Corbyn faction is planning to break away if he fails to back an amendment expected to be tabled by the Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson on February 27, which will demand a second referendum.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Tony Blair criticised Corbyn’s “destructive indecision” over Brexit. Blair said the nation was in “genuine peril” and at a “profound juncture” in its history. He called on Tory and Labour moderates to put act on the “basis of conviction and not of convenience”.

May has won the backing of one key member of the ERG: Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 committee, who today urges his colleagues to help “achieve a resolution” to the current Brexit impasse.

Writing for The Sunday Times, he urged compromises to ensure the country left the EU on March 29: “That means not playing into the hands of those who want to delay or thwart Brexit, and instead giving the prime minister the time and space to get the necessary changes to the backstop.”

With many thanks to: The Times The Sunday Times for the original story


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