Brexit: Top Tory hints MPs need Irish backstop ‘reassurance’ to back May’s deal

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Powerful Tory backbencher Sir Graham Brady hinted he and other MPs may need “reassurance” over ending the Northern Irish backstop before they can back Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

The chair of the 1922 Committee had earlier praised the PM’s efforts in getting the Withdrawal Agreement drafted.

“I think the Prime Minister has enormous goodwill on both sides of the House.

“I think members on both sides know she has worked phenomenally hard to try to secure the best agreement,” he said.

“I think she’s also correct when she makes the point that the country feels ready to move on, there is palpable tiredness with this subject and people the length and breadth if the United Kingdom want to know that we’re going to move forward.”

But speaking in Tuesday’s Commons debate Sir Graham said “there has to be a way to leave” the backstop mechanism without the EU’s approval.

He said: “Over the next seven days can I urge the Brexit Secretary and the Prime Minister in the strongest possible terms to redouble their efforts to find a way to give real reassurance that we the United Kingdom in future could leave the Northern Irish backstop in the event that we have had to join it.”

The member for Altrincham and Sale West added he was not alone among Conservative MPs in holding that opinion, adding: “Many of us are hoping to hear that reassurance, and are willing the Brexit Secretary and the Prime Minister well in the process.”

Responding to Mr Brady, Labour former cabinet minister Dame Margaret Beckett outlined why she could not support the deal: “The Prime Minister says ‘people just want it to be over’. Of course, they do.

“Heaven knows, I think we probably all share that sentiment.

“But it’s a con. It’s perhaps the biggest con of all.

“If we pass this deal in this House, it won’t be over, the really serious stuff hasn’t even started, and it’s going to go on for years.”

Tory former minister Anna Soubry later gave a withering evaluation of the Government’s handling of Brexit over the last two years.

She said: “The great failing was from the outset when instead of reaching out across this House and across our country to heal the divisions, to bring together the 48 and the 52 I’m afraid and sorry to say the exact opposite was done.

“The 48% were tossed aside, we were abused, we were sidelined, if we had even the temerity to question almost anything we were called remoaners.”

She later said the Government had verged on the “irresponsible” using the slogan “no deal is better than a bad deal”.

Labour MP Hilary Benn, who chairs the Commons Brexit Committee, also condemned the Government’s handling of Brexit - telling ministers Theresa May’s redlines had been an “absolutely catastrophic misstep”.

He added: “We have no idea where we’re going, no idea where we’re going to end up, no clarity, no certainty.”

Conservative former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson raised concerns over the deal, including on border arrangements, saying: “We must vote against this ghastly proposal - it’s absolutely appalling and I’m delighted so many members from across the House are going to vote against it.”

Tory former attorney general Dominic Grieve suggested the central premise of Brexit was so impossible that “archangels” could not have negotiated a better deal than Mrs May, and “sterile debate” would drag on for years and “destroy this country”.

He said: “Quite frankly we might have been led by archangels to get a better outcome because in all negotiations you move toward the mean centre and it is where the power lies where you end up getting the agreement.

“The consequence is that far from detaching ourselves from a complicated international treaty... we are in the process of enmeshing ourselves in another very complex international treaty - but one that is much more disadvantageous to this country than the one we are leaving.

“In reality, far from bringing this debate to an end, we are only just embarking upon it - and it will destroy this country over years of sterile debate about a future relationship.”

Pro-EU Tory MP Ed Vaizey attacked his Eurosceptic colleagues for wanting to complain about whatever Brexit deal the PM does.

The former minister rejected the suggestion a committed Brexiteer would have got a better negotiation with the EU, saying: “I think too many Brexiteers fantasised about what Brexit would look like without confronting the cold reality.”

Referring to his fellow Conservatives he said: “All of you Brexiteers will complain, complain about the Withdrawal Clause, (if) we do crash out with no deal you’ll say that nobody prepared for it.

“Nothing is ever the Brexiteers fault.”