Tory Eurosceptics and Remainers are to be brought together for talks aimed at finding a way through on Brexit.
ERG deputy leader Steve Baker, former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson and Yeovil MP Marcus Fysh will be part of the Alternative Arrangements Working Group, which will meet for the first time on Monday, a No 10 spokeswoman said.
They will be joined by former education secretary Nicky Morgan and ex-cabinet office minister Damian Green in the group, which will meet ‘regularly’ with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, a No 10 spokeswoman said.
ERG deputy leader Steve Baker (pictured above) will be part of the Alternative Arrangements Working Group
Steve Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, will hold three days of meetings with MPs.
The group will consider if proposals for a Brexit ‘Plan C’ can be made to work.
The plan was thrashed out in secret talks involving Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker and Remainers Nicky Morgan and Robert Buckland.
Mr Baker, a former Brexit minister who quit last year in protest at the Chequers agreement, and Ms Morgan were involved talks last week between MPs from the Remain and Brexiteer wings of the Conservative Party.
They were in talks over the so-called Malthouse compromise, named after housing minister Kit Malthouse, who brokered the talks. It would involve the UK paying £10 billion on top of the £39 billion divorce bill in return for a three-year transition period to allow a trade deal to be negotiated.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: ‘As the Home Secretary set out on Marr, the Attorney General (AG) is looking at the legal changes we are aiming to secure to the backstop.
Iain Duncan Smith (left) with Steve Barclay (centre) and ex-cabinet office minister Damian Green (right) who are meeting to discuss plans over the Irish backstop
‘As the PM has previously said, there are a number of ideas on this, including a unilateral exit mechanism or a time limit and the AG is considering their wording and legal effect.
‘He will be closely engaged throughout the process.’
The Malthouse compromise is seen as one of the main reasons the ERG changed its mind and backed an amendment last Tuesday tabled by Sir Graham Brady, which urged the Government to look at backstop alternatives.
Ms Morgan said last week that under the terms of the Malthouse compromise the Northern Ireland backstop would be ‘recast’ as ‘free trade agreement-lite’
Ms Morgan said last week that under the terms of the Malthouse compromise the Northern Ireland backstop would be ‘recast’ as ‘free trade agreement-lite’ with a commitment there would be no hard border with Ireland.
At the same time, the 21-month transition period would be extended by another year to December 2021, during which EU citizens’ rights would continue and the UK would pay into the EU budget.
Mr Baker said last week that the plan would replace the backstop – which is supposed to be temporary – with a permanent arrangement, while allowing more time to secure a free trade agreement with the EU.
He told the Press Association on Sunday: ‘After a positive conference call today running through the Government’s questions, I’m more confident than ever we can land the Malthouse compromise, including the indefinite Better Deal backstop protocol.
‘I hope our meetings with Government are as constructive as they should be because Malthouse is the only game in town if we are to achieve a deal.
‘I just hope engagement is as sincere as the PM’s words at the despatch box led us to expect.’
Mrs May told the Commons the group had put forward ‘a serious proposal that we are engaging with sincerely and positively’.
She added: ‘We will sit down and work through the proposal that has come forward.’
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is looking at legal changes to the Irish backstop that Mrs May aims to get agreed by the EU
Some Tories have heralded the Malthouse Compromise as a way forward but Brussels has already dismissed it as unworkable.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is looking at legal changes to the Irish backstop that Mrs May aims to get agreed by the EU. In the Sunday Telegraph, she pledged to ‘battle for Britain and Northern Ireland’ to improve the Withdrawal Agreement.
Mr Baker tweeted there would be ‘trouble ahead’ if the changes did not go far enough. And Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns said there were ‘other issues with the Withdrawal Agreement’ that she could not back.
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC that technological solutions could be used to avoid a hard border.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that technological solutions could be used to avoid a hard border
Mr Javid told Marr: ‘In terms of an alternative arrangement it can be done.
‘In my own department I have got Border Force and I asked Border Force months ago to advise me to look at what alternative arrangements were possible.
‘They have shown me quite clearly you can have no hard border on the island of Ireland and you can use existing technology. It is perfectly possible, the only thing missing is a bit of goodwill on the EU side.’
However this was publicly questioned by Sabine Weyand, deputy to European Commission chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
She tweeted: ‘That would not be ‘goodwill’ but a dereliction of duty by public authorities in the EU that have a duty to ensure public health and safety of consumers, protect against unfair competition and enforce public policies and international agreements.’
- Tory ex-Cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin, who is leading efforts to block a No Deal Brexit, has said he never agreed with the 2017 election manifesto he stood on. He told party members in his West Dorset constituency he ‘did not believe’ in a pledge to leave the customs union and a declaration that ‘No Deal is better than a bad deal’.