Cabinet rebels demand May hold back £39bn Brexit bill - unless EU plays ball on trade deal

Daily Express :: Politics Feed
Cabinet rebels demand May hold back £39bn Brexit bill - unless EU plays ball on trade deal

Five senior ministers including Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and Liam Fox are also pushing for last-minute changes to the Irish border backstop outlined in the draft withdrawal agreement. In a series of meetings with the Prime Minister this week, the Cabinet rebels put forward amendments to make the controversial divorce deal more palatable to Leave supporters, according to BuzzFeed News. And the demands made by the so-called ‘gang of five’ reportedly include refusing to cough up some of the £39 billion divorce bill unless the EU plays ball on trade.

The massive figure has enraged some Brexiteers who insist the UK is under no obligation to pay.

But the UK agreed to cover its commitments to the EU’s long-term budget in the early stages of the exit talks.

Now, Brexit-backing Cabinet ministers have suggested Mrs May hold back part of the huge sum unless sufficient progress is made with Brussels in thrashing out a future UK-EU relationship, BuzzFeed News reports.

Securing terms to facilitate this could help appease Tory eurosceptics and help the Prime Minister secure the support she needs to get her draft deal through the Commons.

Cabinet rebels are also said to have demanded additions to the withdrawal agreement which address issues Brexiteers have with the Irish border backstop.

Under the current terms, the backstop contingency will kick in if a future UK-EU trade deal fails to provide a way to avoid the need for a ‘hard border’ - involving border infrastructure and customs checks - in Ireland.

Brexiteers fear the arrangement could be used to tie Britain the EU indefinitely because the wording does not allow the UK to leave the backstop without permission from the bloc.

But pro-Brexit senior ministers have reportedly urged Mrs May to demand more detail from Brussels.

The clarity would be set out in an additional ‘schedule’ attached to the draft deal and would serve to “flesh out” what has already been agreed, BuzzFeed News reports.

However, the EU has repeatedly insisted the terms of the Brexit deal are not open to renegotiation.

And Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney today warned the draft withdrawal agreement is very much "the text" as it has been approved by both UK and EU negotiators.

Mrs May is desperately attempting to rally support in the Tory ranks for her deal but there are major doubts over whether she will secure the votes needed to pass it through parliament.

Opposition parties have vowed to vote against the agreement and hardline Conservative Brexiteers have branded it a “half in half out” fudge which consigns Britain to the status of an EU “vassal state”.

However the Prime Minister appears to have staved off a potential confidence vote in her leadership - for now at least.

A total of 26 Tory MPs have said they had submitted letters calling for a vote to the backbench 1922 Committee - well short of the 48 required to trigger a secret ballot.

But Jacob Rees-Mogg today hinted that more letters could be in the pipeline.

He said: “Patience is a virtue, virtue is a grace.

“We will see what letters come in due time. Do 47 want to come with me or not? I may find that they don’t or they don’t do it today but when we get the meaningful vote. That’s a decision for them.”

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