George Eustice quit the Government today vowing to vote for no deal Brexit if Theresa May’s deal is defeated a second time.
The Leave supporter made the surprise decision to walk out on the PM after she handed Parliament more control of the Brexit process.
Mrs May made a screeching U-turn this week to admit if MPs reject her deal a second time by March 12, they will get to vote first on whether to go for no deal on March 13 and, if not, on delaying Brexit on March 14.
In the wake of her concessions Mr Eustice told Mrs May he now wanted to play full part in how Britain leaves the EU and could not do so as a minister.
He said he would vote for her deal when it comes back to Parliament – but said he would then vote to leave with no deal if she loses a second time.
His resignation will fuel Brexiteer fears ministers expect to be whipped to vote against no deal on March 13 – despite Mrs May insisting no deal is still an option.
In his furious resignation letter, Mr Eustice lashed Remain supporters in Parliament for refusing to respect the referendum result – telling Mrs May she has been ‘terribly undermined’.
He demanded the Government should show ‘courage’ and commit to leaving the EU without a deal if Brussels refuses to make further concessions.
Mr Eustice accused the EU of not acting ‘honorably’ in the talks, deliberately making negotiations ‘slow and difficult’.
George Eustice quit the Government today vowing to vote for no deal Brexit if Theresa May’s deal is defeated a second time.
The Leave supporter made the surprise decision to walk out on the PM (pictured today with the King of Jordan) fearing Parliament has seized control of the Brexit process.
In his furious resignation letter, Mr Eustice lashed Remain supporters in Parliament for refusing to respect the referendum result – telling Mrs May she has been ‘terribly undermined’
Vowing to support no deal if the current divorce plan fails, Mr Eustice said: ‘We must therefore have the courage, if necessary, to reclaim our freedom first and talk afterwards.
In full: George Eustice’s resignation letter
Dear Prime Minister,
It is with tremendous sadness that I have decided to resign from the government following the decision this week to allow the postponement of our exit from the EU. Since Parliament is now in direct control of events, I want to be free to participate in the critical debate that will take place in the weeks ahead.
It has been an honour to work alongside so many talented individuals at Defra over the past five years. Defra has phenomenal expertise and, more than any other government department, has embraced the opportunities posed by our exit from the EU. I have particularly welcomed the chance to craft two new Bills on farming and fisheries, which are the first for half a century, as we have prepared the ground to restore self-government in this country.
I will vote for your Withdrawal Agreement when it returns to the House and I very much hope that the Attorney General succeeds in securing final changes so that others might too. Although I campaigned to leave, I have always supported compromise to achieve a reconciliation in our country. Leaving the EU would represent an historic change and it is natural that some people will feel apprehensive. I have been open to the idea of using our existing membership of the EEA as an exit mechanism and I supported your approach outlined at Chequers when others did not. I have stuck with the government through a series of rather undignified retreats. However, I fear that developments this week will lead to a sequence of events culminating in the EU dictating the terms of any extension requested and the final humiliation of our country.
I appreciate that you have been terribly undermined by those in Parliament who refuse to respect the referendum result. You have shown tenacity and resilience over the past year. However, what our country needs from all its political leaders at this critical juncture is courage, and we are about to find out whether Parliament has it.
As a Defra Minister, I have enjoyed good relations with the European Commission and with Ministers from other member states. However, I do not believe that the Commission has behaved honourably during these negotiations. They have deliberately made progress slow and difficult. They have stated in terms that they will refuse to even hold substantive negotiations on a future partnership until after we leave. If the position of Parliament is now that we will refuse to leave without an agreement then we are somewhat stuck. This is uncomfortable for everyone, but we cannot negotiate a successful Brexit unless we are prepared to walk through the door.
We must therefore have the courage, if necessary, to reclaim our freedom first and talk afterwards. We must be ready to face down the European Union here and now. The absence of an agreement poses risks and costs for them too. We already know that in the event of “no deal” the EU will seek an informal transition period for nine months in many areas and settlement talks could continue within this window.
I will do what I can from the back benches to try to salvage this sorry situation and I hope that, when the moment comes, Parliament will not let our country down.
‘We must be ready to face down the European Union here and now. The absence of an agreement poses risks and costs for them too.
‘We already know that in the event of ”no deal” the EU will seek an informal transition period for nine months in many areas and settlement talks could continue within this window.
‘I will do what I can from the back benches to try to salvage this sorry situation and I hope that, when the moment comes, Parliament will not let our country down.’
Mr Eustice blamed Remain supporters in Parliament for making Mrs May’s task even harder.
His incendiary resignation comes after a blazing Cabinet row on Tuesday where Brexit backered lashed Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark for publicly threatening to resign over no deal.
Leading Remainer Yvette Cooper last night claimed no deal had been successfully taken off the table.
Mr Eustice told the PM: ‘I appreciate that you have been terribly undermined by those in Parliament who refuse to respect the referendum result.
‘You have shown tenacity and resilience over the past year.
‘However, what our country needs from all its political leaders at this critical juncture is courage, and we are about to find out whether Parliament has it.’
Warning the positions of Parliament and the EU left Britain at an impasse, he added: ‘They (the EU) have stated in terms that they will refuse to even hold substantive negotiations on a future partnership until after we leave.
‘If the position of Parliament is now that we will refuse to leave without an agreement then we are somewhat stuck.
‘This is uncomfortable for everyone, but we cannot negotiate a successful Brexit unless we are prepared to walk through the door.’
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is thought to be drawing up legal guarantees the Irish border backstop will not be permanent.
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds repeated his demand yesterday ch+anges must be ‘legally binding’.
But the anonymous MP on the European Research Group (ERG) said Tory rebels would take their lead from the Northern Ireland party and back the deal if Mr Cox’s work was enough.
The ERG led by Jacob Rees-Mogg has so far been resolute in its opposition to the deal unless the Irish border backstop is stripped out.
But with less than a fortnight until the next approval vote is expected the group may be softening its position. Mr Rees-Mogg said yesterday he could accept an appendix after all.
One member told the FT: ‘If the DUP back the deal, so will we. We would be in a ludicrous position if we were seen as more unionist than the unionists.’
Hopes are rising in Downing Street Mr Cox’s work – on a legal ‘codicil’ designed to make clearer how the backstop will work – could bear fruit.
A member of the hardline Tory Brexiteers said the group would back down and back the Brexit deal if Theresa May wins over the DUP (led by Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds, pictured) today
The ERG led by Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured yesterday in the Commons) has so far been resolute in its opposition to the deal unless the Irish border backstop is stripped out – but appears to be softening its position
An ERG source told MailOnline a panel of eight former lawyers – seven of which are current MPs and including Mr Dodds – would give the group a ‘thumbs up or down’ on what Mr Cox comes up with.
Strawberry farmer turned Eurosceptic MP, George Eustice worked for Cameron before becoming Gove’s deputy
- The 47-year-old has been the Tory MP for Camborne and Redruth since 2010.
- Previously worked for his family’s strawberry farming business in Cornwall
- Married to Katy
- Says his family has lived and worked in the area of his constituency for 400 years
- Was appointed Food Minister by David Cameron in 2015.
- A keen Brexiteer who supported the Vote Leave campaign
- Had previously campaigned against joining the Euro before becoming an MP
- Was the Conservatives’ head of press under Michael Howard
- Acted as David Cameron’s press secretary from 2005-2007 after being part of his leadership campaign team
But No 10 played down claims the new meaningful vote could come as soon as next week today.
Mrs May’s official spokesman said: ‘As a matter of fact, what the PM said was the meaningful vote would be by March 12.
‘I would say there remains a significant amount of work still to do.’
On the continuing work of Mr Cox, the spokesman said ‘talks are ongoing between EU and UK officials’.
Government sources said a vote next week was ‘unlikely’.
Relations between No 10 and the DUP nose dived when the deal was first published late last year.
Mr Dodds and his party leader Arlene Foster said it created a regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain – paving the way for Mrs May’s deal to be crushed by 230 votes in January.
An ally of Mrs May told the FT: ‘Relations are much better with the DUP but everything depends on us securing a better deal in Brussels.
‘There is some cause for hope.’
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox (pictured in Downing Street on Tuesday) is thought to be drawing up legal guarantees the Irish border backstop will not be permanent
What is the ‘Cox Codicil’?
What is a ‘codicil’?
A legal term for an extra document attached to a treaty – a bit like an appendix.
What does this one try to do?
It won’t be clear unless and until it is published, but reports suggest Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is negotiating a codicil on how the backstop works.
The obvious intention will be to make clear the backstop can only be temporary.
Will it work?
Unclear. The EU already says the backstop is supposed to be temporary and that language already in the divorce treaty says so.
Cox’s legal advice on the original deal was despite this language, if there is no future UK-EU trade deal there was nothing to stop the backstop lasting forever.
The intention appears to be negotiating something that allows Cox to change his legal advice.
A DUP source told the paper: ‘We are giving Theresa May space, and have to wait and see what she gets back from Brussels before we make a judgment.
‘We are not ‘never’ people. If it’s the right deal we will tell people to support it. We don’t say no to everything.’
During PMQs yesterday Mr Dodds blasted Remainer minsters who forced Mrs May to accept Brexit could be delayed for ‘undermining’ her negotiating position today.
Mr Dodds, who leads 10 MPs propping Mrs May up in No 10, said the actions of Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark would make concessions harder to get.
He seized on a question at PMQs today to lash the ministers after Mrs May admitted on Tuesday MPs would be able to both delay Brexit and stop no deal if they rejected the Brexit divorce she has negotiated with Brussels.
He said it meant ‘the prospects of the PM being able to achieve the necessary changes have been undermined and her negotiating position weakened’ by opening the door to delay.
Mr Dodds demanded she still come back with ‘legally binding changes’ to the backstop part of the deal.
What is the Irish border backstop and why do Tory MPs hate it?
The so-called Irish border backstop is one of the most controversial parts of the PM’s Brexit deal. This is what it means:
What is the backstop?
The backstop was invented to meet promises to keep open the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland even if there is no comprehensive UK-EU trade deal.
The divorce deal says it will kick in automatically at the end of the Brexit transition if that deal is not in place.
If effectively keeps the UK in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland in both the customs union and single market.
This means many EU laws will keep being imposed on the UK and there can be no new trade deals. It also means regulatory checks on some goods crossing the Irish Sea.
Why have Ireland and the EU demanded it?
Because Britain demanded to leave the EU customs union and single market, the EU said it needed guarantees people and goods circulating inside met EU rules.
This is covered by the Brexit transition, which effectively maintains current rules, and can in theory be done in the comprehensive EU-UK trade deal.
But the EU said there had to be a backstop to cover what happens in any gap between transition and final deal.
Why do critics hate it?
Because Britain cannot decide when to leave the backstop.
Getting out – even if there is a trade deal – can only happen if both sides agree people and goods can freely cross the border.
Brexiteers fear the EU will unreasonably demand the backstop continues so EU law continues to apply in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland MPs also hate the regulatory border in the Irish Sea, insisting it unreasonably carves up the United Kingdom.
What concessions did Britain get in negotiating it?
During the negotiations, Britain persuaded Brussels the backstop should apply to the whole UK and not just Northern Ireland. Importantly, this prevents a customs border down the Irish Sea – even if some goods still need to be checked.
The Government said this means Britain gets many of the benefits of EU membership after transition without all of the commitments – meaning Brussels will be eager to end the backstop.
It also got promises the EU will act in ‘good faith’ during the future trade talks and use its ‘best endeavours’ to finalise a deal – promises it says can be enforced in court.
What did the legal advice say about it?
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said even with the EU promises, if a trade deal cannot be reached the backstop could last forever.
This would leave Britain stuck in a Brexit limbo, living under EU rules it had no say in writing and no way to unilaterally end it.