May’s frantic bid to save Brexit deal as Merkel threatens to ditch summit
Theresa May flew to Brussels tonight in a frantic bid to save her Brexit deal, as European leaders threatened to cancel Sunday’s vital summit.
The Prime Minister hoped to hammer out the final details of the text in a 90-minute ‘afternoon tea’ meeting with EU President Jean-Claude Juncker.
But while "good progress" was made at the meeting, an EU spokesperson said a final deal was not agreed.
Mrs May flew to Brussels with fresh demands from her own MPs to rewrite the deal still ringing in her ears.
Tory backbenchers lined up to demand changes, with Jeremy Corbyn warning her the draft withdrawal agreement was “dead.”
And the DUP accused Mrs May of ‘deleting’ protections for Northern Ireland from the deal.
Germany’s ambassador warned Chancellor Angela Merkel could pull out of Sunday’s summit of EU leaders if the final document were not published by tomorrow morning.
And EU Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said the deal must be completed in time for a meeting of ‘sherpas’ – representatives of European leaders – on Friday morning.
But Number 10 would not commit to publishing a finished version ahead of Sunday’s summit.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “The negotiations will take as long as they take to deliver on the right deal.
“We want to secure a deal as soon as possible, but it has to be the right deal for the United Kingdom.”
He added: “A summit has been called, an agenda has been published and we look forward to attending.”
Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s deputy leader told the PM that protections for Northern Ireland agreed last December had been "deleted" from the deal.
But Downing Street insisted the deal with the DUP to prop up the Government with votes was still intact, despite their failing to support the Budget bill for two days running.
Mr Dodds said: "In the December joint report agreed between the European Union and the United Kingdom it was agreed that Northern Ireland would have the final say on whether or not it diverged from the UK single market and was subjected to single market European rules with no say, why has the Prime Minister deleted all reference to that in the withdrawal agreement.
"Did she push the delete button?"
Mrs May responded saying he was "absolutely right" about the December report, but added: "The December joint report referred to a decision being taken by the Northern Ireland Executive and Northern Ireland Assembly which sadly we do not have in place today."
Just days after returning to the Cabinet, Amber Rudd appeared to undermine Mrs May’s game plan, admitting the Commons would block a no-deal Brexit.
The Prime Minister was relying on the fear of crashing out without a deal to get her withdrawal agreement through Parliament.
But the Work and Pensions Secretary said: “The House of Commons will stop no deal. There isn’t a majority for that to take place.”
She added that if the deal doesn’t get through the Commons, “anything could happen. The Brexiteers may lose their Brexit."
Pressed on Ms Rudd’s comments by Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mrs May said: “The point that has been made by a number of my colleagues in relation to the vote that will come before this House on a meaningful vote on a deal from the European Union is very simple.
“If you look at the alternative to having that vote with the European Union it will either be more uncertainty, more division or it could risk no Brexit at all."
Meanwhile, shadow frontbencher Steve Reed appeared to break with official Labour policy, calling for Parliament to “let the people take back control of Brexit and decide our country’s future through a People’s Vote.”
Writing for the the London Evening Standard, the Shadow Culture Minister explicitly ruled out an early election, saying it would be impossible without Tory support.
Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman said Labour policy was that if a General Election was not achievable, all options remain on the table including a public vote.
He added: “That is our policy and discussions about what he said and the consequences of that will take place.
“These things are dealt with first by the whip’s office.”
Former Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith, who was sacked by Jeremy Corbyn for backing a People’s Vote, said: “Steve Reed is absolutely right and incredibly brave in this call.
“I believe that there’s no way Labour can force a General Election, much as we and the country might like one, and so the only way to stop Brexit and bring Britain back from the brink is to fight for a people’s vote."
Poland’s Prime Minister told Channel 4 News there were still divisions among EU leaders on the deal, but Mrs May could count on his support.
He said: “She knows she can rely on Poland. We spoke many times about this.”
The head of the HMRC has warned the UK could miss out on tariff revenue if the UK crashes out without a deal.
Jon Thompson said it would take two years to have a fully operational customs system at the UK border.
MPs were told that "functioning but clearly sub-optimal" arrangements could be in place on March 29 2019 when the UK leaves but there would be a risk of failing to collect tariffs owed on imports.
HM Revenue and Customs chief executive Jon Thompson told MPs: "The date for putting in an optimal customs system for the UK in the event of no deal was passed months ago."
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