PM summons Tory Brexiteers and Remainers for crisis talks

Theresa May will try to break the Brexit logjam with a speech in Northern Ireland tomorrow – after summoning Tory Eurosceptics and Remainers for crisis talks.

The PM will underline her ‘absolute commitment’ to avoiding a hard Irish border during the visit, according to aides.

The mission emerged as Mrs May invited rebels from both Conservative wings to join discussions on how to handle the UK’s departure from the EU – which is now less than eight weeks away. 

But Cabinet ministers have voiced fears that there is ‘nothing she can get’ that will satisfy the hardline Brexiteers. One told MailOnline they seemed intent on forcing no deal, warning: ‘She could get the backstop removed and even that wouldn’t be enough. They would just find some other excuse.’ 

Meanwhile, Brussels has ramped up the pressure by again flatly dismissing the idea that that Irish border issue can be resolved with technological fixes in the short term. 

Government sources said there was ‘zero’ chance of Mrs May heading to the Belgian capital for talks today. 

Theresa May (pictured today arriving at Downing Street) is summoning Tory Eurosceptics and Remainers for crisis talks as she desperately struggles to find a Brexit strategy that does not tear her party to pieces

Theresa May (pictured today arriving at Downing Street) is summoning Tory Eurosceptics and Remainers for crisis talks as she desperately struggles to find a Brexit strategy that does not tear her party to pieces

Theresa May (pictured today arriving at Downing Street) is summoning Tory Eurosceptics and Remainers for crisis talks as she desperately struggles to find a Brexit strategy that does not tear her party to pieces

ERG deputy leader Steve Baker (pictured above) will be part of the Alternative Arrangements Working Group

ERG deputy leader Steve Baker (pictured above) will be part of the Alternative Arrangements Working Group

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'

ERG deputy leader Steve Baker (left in Westminster last week) and Nicky Morgan (right in Downing Street on Friday) will be part of the Alternative Arrangements Working Group

Members of the European Research Group (ERG) and senior Remainers have been drafted in to form the Alternative Arrangements Working Group (AAWG). The first meeting will be chaired by Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay later.

ERG deputy chairman Steve Baker, former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson and Yeovil MP Marcus Fysh will be involved along with former education secretary Nicky Morgan and ex-cabinet office minister Damian Green.

They will examine the prospects of the so-called Malthouse Compromise – which essentially involves seeking to replace the Irish backstop with a looser arrangement, and if that fails persuading the EU to agree a longer transition period to hammer out other trade terms.

But many senior ministers are deeply sceptical about the proposals, pointing out that they are very similar to the ‘managed no deal’ ideas that have already been rejected the by government and Brussels. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured today at Global radio in London) has backed the so-called Malthouse Compromise 

Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured today at Global radio in London) has backed the so-called Malthouse Compromise 

Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured today at Global radio in London) has backed the so-called Malthouse Compromise 

There have been claims that Mrs May and other senior figures paid lip service to the plan amid frantic efforts to stave off defeat in crunch Commons votes last Tuesday. 

However, Brexiteers have warned that the PM must stand by her promise to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement altogether – rather than just seeking a legal add-on.  

One Cabinet minister told MailOnline: ‘There is nothing she can get that would satisfy the ERG hardliners. They are irreconcilable.’ 

Pro-EU Tory MP Anna Soubry today delivered a thinly-veiled call for ministers to quit.

She said ‘sensible’ figures ‘must show courage’ or they will be ‘complicit in a disastrous no deal’.

And Justice Secretary David Gauke suggested Brexit might have to be delayed unless Mrs May’s deal was approved soon.

‘The determination that the Prime Minister has set out is to deliver that on the 29th March but if we are going to do that then MPs do need to be backing a deal in short order, and that’s MPs both on my own side and also in other parties,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The new grouping was announced as former foreign secretary Boris Johnson accused the party leadership of using rumours of a June general electionas a ‘scare tactic’ to bounce exhausted Conservative MPs into backing her Withdrawal Agreement.

In his Telegraph column, Mr Johnson suggested that if someone in Tory HQ thought a summer election was a good idea they should be ‘dispatched on secondment to Venezuela or Zimbabwe or somewhere they can do less damage.’

Meanwhile, car giant Nissan hit out at Brexit ‘uncertainty’ as it confirmed it would build its X-Trail 4×4 in Japan instead of at its Sunderland plant.

In a letter to staff Gianluca de Ficchy, the Japanese firm’s Europe chairman blamed pressure on the diesel market for the U-turn, adding: ‘We have taken this decision for the business reasons I’ve explained, but clearly the uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU is not helping companies like ours to plan for the future.’

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is looking at legal changes to the Irish backstop that Mrs May aims to get agreed by the EU

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is looking at legal changes to the Irish backstop that Mrs May aims to get agreed by the EU

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is looking at legal changes to the Irish backstop that Mrs May aims to get agreed by the EU

But ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg played down the idea that leaving the EU was responsible for the car giant’s move.

‘As far as one can tell, Brexit is far from being the primary reason Nissan has made this decision,’ he told LBC Radio.

He said ‘uncertainty’ about the future relationship was far more the issue for businesses.

The AAWG is due to meet at the Cabinet Office in Whitehall later, with meetings also scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

What is Plan C? 

Under Plan C, the UK would ask for the transition period to run for an extra year to the end of 2021 and EU citizens living in Britain would have their rights protected.

There is then a two-pronged approach to the negotiations.  

First, the UK would demand the EU negotiates a new Irish border backstop that is acceptable to Brexiteers.

They suggest a technology-based system for goods crossing the Irish border that has already been rejected by the EU.

If this proves impossible, the group would then suggest a no deal exit based on keeping the transition period from the existing plan in return for paying some of the divorce bill.

Both sides would then use the three year transition period to prepare for an exit on basic World Trade Organisation rules, while negotiating a final trade deal.  

If it went ahead, Brexiteers would get to remove the backstop they say is unacceptable while Remainers still get the transition period they say is essential.

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 over the Malthouse compromise. 

It requires the PM to replace the Agreement’s controversial backstop with ‘alternative arrangements’ to keep the Irish border open after Brexit.

Mrs May told the Commons last week it was ‘a serious proposal that we are engaging with sincerely and positively’.

Mr Baker said last night: ‘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.’

Mr Johnson used his Telegraph column to heap scorn on the idea of a general election in a few months time.

He attacked the idea not because he though Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party might win but because ‘if Tory MPs were asked to go into electoral battle in the next few months, there would be a hole in the heart of our manifesto’.

He added: ‘I have no idea what we would say about the EU – because after two-and-a-half years of dither the truly astonishing feature of the UK position is that the big questions have still not been answered.’

Home Secretary Sajid Javid suggested yesterday that Border Force figures believe there are viable alternative arrangements to the Irish border backstop that would avoid the need for a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Mr Javid told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘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.’

 

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