Hardline Tory Brexiteers are to present Theresa May with ‘three tests’ her Brexit deal will have to pass in order for them to get behind it and pass it into law.
Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group presented peace terms to Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, in the latest sign that all but the most diehard eurosceptics are prepared to accept a deal.
In private talks the ERG called for a legally binding mechanism to escape the backstop, with a clear exit route and an unambiguous rewrite of the language in the Government’s legal advice, the Sunday Times said.
It comes after senior eurosceptics appeared to dramatically soften their insistence that the Withdrawal Agreement must be rewritten to remove the Northern Irish border backstop provision.
They included Mr Rees-Mogg and even the Democratic Unionist Party, who seem to have been startled by moves by MPs to delay Brexit to avoid leaving without a deal.
The move by the ERG came as the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned that a Brexit delay is now ‘unavoidable’ even if MPs back a deal next week.
Barnier backed up the private positions of many of the Remainers in Theresa May’s Cabinet by saying she does not have time to make a deal.
Theresa May has threatened MPs in recent weeks to back her ‘meaningful vote’ on March 12 or risk further delaying Brexit or a no-deal scenario.
Barnier told Spain’s El Mundo that Brussels would not green light a Brexit deal on March 29 even if Parliament reached an agreement.
The EU’s chief negotiator has slapped down Mrs May’s notion of securing a withdrawal by March 29, suggesting she take a two month extension
The Prime Minister warned MPs that they would need to back her deal if they wanted to avoid a delay to Article 50 or to avoid a no-deal situation
Mr Barnier suggested a ‘technical extension’ of up to two months would be needed.
Referencing a technical extension, Mr Barnier added: ‘But you’ll have to ask the United Kingdom. If there is a vote on the 12th and it takes two months to carry out the procedure, it would be justified.’
Mrs May has said that if her deal is rejected by Parliament, MPs will be able to vote on whether the UK can leave the EU in a no-deal scenario, and if that is rejected, the Commons can decide on whether to extend Article 50 and delay Brexit for a limited period.
Today the leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt issued a joint warning to the Prime Minister over colleagues they believe are poised to delay or block Article 50 altogether.
The pair write in the Sunday Telegraph: ‘The active pursuit of a delay to Brexit – with no purpose beyond frustration – is a betrayal of the referendum result.’
They say this would be an ‘irretrievable breach of trust’ to those who voted Brexit but also warned against the ruptures that would be caused by a no-deal.
The news comes as Mr Barnier said Brussels was ready to give further ‘guarantees, assurances and clarifications’ that the Irish backstop should only be temporary.
The backstop has been a sticking point for Brexiteers who see it as undermining the very sovereignty the UK stands to gain through leaving the EU.
Mr Barnier insisted that the controversial measure, intended to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, will not be removed from the Withdrawal Agreement.
While acknowledging Brexiteer concerns that the backstop is a trap that would keep the UK tied to the EU indefinitely, Mr Barnier insisted it is only ‘insurance’ intended for the ‘worst-case scenario’.
Speaking to German newspaper Die Welt, Mr Barnier said: ‘We know that there are misgivings in Britain that the backstop could keep Britain forever connected to the EU.
‘This is not the case. And we are ready to give further guarantees, assurances and clarifications that the backstop should only be temporary.’
The guarantees in question could come as an adjunct to the Withdrawal Agreement in the form of an ‘interpretive document’, he said.
EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier attends a joint news conference with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Vienna, Austria last week
Mrs May is facing divisions across the House and in her own Cabinet as she struggles to get her deal over the line
However the EU will not allow for a time limit to be placed on the backstop or give Britain the right to unilaterally pull out of it, Mr Barnier added.
The development came as the president of Slovenia suggested the country and many other EU states would be willing to accept a short delay to Brexit.
Borut Pahor, who sat on the European Council of leaders when he was prime minister, told Sky News: ‘I think Slovenia and a lot of other countries would say yes.
‘I think that nobody wants to see a hard Brexit in a chaotic way, which would damage London and Brussels and Ljubljana and every country.’
However Mr Pahor said the extension should not be used simply to postpone the making of a compromise decision.
Mrs May has insisted she does not want a delay Brexit and believes the UK can leave the EU as scheduled on March 29.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn confirmed Labour would now back a referendum if faced with a ‘damaging Tory Brexit’ or a no-deal departure from the European Union after Labour’s vision was rejected in the Commons.
This graphic shows the possible avenues Mrs May faces ahead of her ‘meaningful vote’ as the March 29 deadline looms large on the horizon
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss warned on Friday that a new Brexit referendum would provoke a ‘massive crisis’.
She also indicated that a no-deal exit could be better than a delay.
Ms Truss told the BBC: ‘I think it would be an absolute disaster if we had a second referendum after people voted so clearly to leave the European Union.
‘There will be a massive crisis in this nation. And it would be terrible for business. It would leave us continuing in this limbo period.’