Boris Johnson threatens to reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal for a third time

Written by Matt Foster on 18 March 2019 in News

Boris Johnson said backing the agreement would open the door to a "greater humiliation" in the second phase of talks on Britain's EU departure

Image credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images

Boris Johnson has urged MPs to reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal for a third time unless she secures “real change” to the Northern Ireland backstop,

The leading Brexiteer said backing the agreement would open the door to a "greater humiliation" in the second phase of talks on Britain's EU departure.

And he revealed that members of his own constituency association have, with “near unanimity”, urged him to "stick to my guns" and continue his longstanding opposition to the deal.

The Prime Minister will today hold last-minute talks with the Democratic Unionist Party in a bid to convince them to swing behind the agreement, which was rejected for a second time in the House of Commons last week.

It is thought that any shift by the DUP could prompt Tory Brexiteers who voted against the deal to get behind it in a third vote pencilled in for either Tuesday or Wednesday this week.

But Johnson urged the Prime Minister to delay any vote until after the EU Council summit that kicks off on Thursday.

And he called on May to use the gathering to once again demand changes to the Northern Ireland backstop, which Brexiteers fear would keep Britain indefinitely tied to EU customs rules as a way of avoiding a return to a hard Irish border.

Writing in The Telegraph, the former Foreign Secretary said: "If we agree this deal – and unless we have a radical change in our approach to the negotiations – we face an even greater humiliation in the second phase.

"We have not found a convincing unilateral way out of the backstop.

"Unless we discover some willingness to resist, the diet of capitulation seems set to continue for at least two years.

"Unless we have some change – and at present, in the immortal phrase, nothing has changed – it is hard to ask anyone who believes in Brexit to change their mind."

Chancellor Philip Hammond this weekend said ministers would not press for a third vote on May's deal unless they were sure of winning.

"We will only bring the deal back if we are confident that enough of our colleagues and the DUP are prepared to support it so that we can get it through Parliament," he told the BBC.

In a sign of the major challenge facing the Government, former Brexit Secretary David Davis, a longstanding critic of the deal who last week switched to vote for it, said he could pull his support.

"If they have not answered the Northern Ireland question properly I might not vote for it this time," he told The Times.

"I took them on trust last week. If they do not solve the Northern Ireland issue then they have got no chance anyway.

"If the DUP don’t back it then some of us who did could change our votes."

The warning came as 20 Conservative Brexiteers, including former ministers Owen Paterson and Sheryll Murray, used an open letter to The Telegraph to make clear they are still planning to reject May's agreement.

"We believe that, if Britain leaves the European Union as planned on March 29, 'no deal' will prove to be the precursor to a very good deal indeed," the group writes.

The MPs reject the argument that they face either backing May's deal or "the indefinite postponement of any Brexit" and warn: "it is not our fault that we are confronted by two unacceptable choices, but it will be our fault if we cast a positive vote in favour of either for fear of the other."

Meanwhile former minister Tim Loughton told the BBC's Westminster Hour on Sunday night that May should immediately step down once Britain leaves the EU.

"If she can get this deal through in the next week or so, I think she can then with her head held high say, look, I got us through this really difficult period, now I’m going to hand over the baton," he said.

Loughton added: "If we get the deal through we come out, and we have a new phase of having to negotiate on the technical detail of what Brexit actually looks like…and I think somebody new needs to come forward and take leadership there."

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