Brexit

Former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey says Theresa May must "immediately" go to the EU and "get a better deal"

Esther McVey has told Theresa May to go back to the negotiating table with the EU

CONSERVATIVE former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, who resigned from the cabinet over the Brexit deal, said Theresa May must "immediately" go to the EU and "get a better deal" if she loses the vote on Tuesday.

Ms McVey said the Irish border backstop should be removed and the £39 billion divorce bill should be dependent on the future trade agreement to be negotiated.

After she reiterated "no deal is better than a bad deal" and warned of a second "project fear" over a no-deal Brexit, Ms McVey also told Sky News's Sophy Ridge On Sunday: "If, and I'm led to believe today that the prime minister is going to go and have another go at negotiating with the EU – which she wasn't prepared to do, which I asked her to do at cabinet – she goes out and gets this deal that we want on those two key points then she'll remain as our prime minister because she'll have done the deal that she was asked to do.

"If she doesn't, it is going to be very difficult for her."

Ms McVey said she would be "fully behind" Mrs May if she can get a better deal, adding: "At the moment I'm looking for a person who can unite the party behind a Brexit deal, a person who believes in Brexit, who has really got the full passion to deliver that."

Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke by telephone on Sunday evening.

"They discussed the current situation on Brexit, including the planned vote in Westminster on Tuesday," an Irish government spokesman said.

"They also discussed preparation for this week's European Council and looked forward to seeing each other in Brussels on Thursday."

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said his party is "determined" to defeat the government over the Brexit deal, adding issues over the confidence and supply agreement with the Tories "come after that", adding: "It really depends what happens."

Speaking on Sophy Ridge On Sunday, he said: "Clearly if this defeated or if the Withdrawal Agreement changed in a way that is satisfactory then clearly those issues don't arise as far as any vote of no confidence in the government is concerned."

On the possibility of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister if the government collapses, Mr Dodds said: "I don't think anyone realistically believes that – this is a scare story being put out by Theresa May because under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act everybody knows, even people in the Labour Party know, that's unlikely unless this deal were to go through.

"I think then clearly Theresa May would be in difficulty in terms of the parliamentary arithmetic."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told ITV News: "Listen, this deal is ridiculous. It's not going to work. Everybody knows that.

"It's going to be defeated, I hope, on Tuesday. At that point they've got to go back, negotiate something that is acceptable, which does protect rights and conditions, which does give us that trade access, or they've got to get out of the way, have an election so that it will be a government here that will be serious about those negotiations.

"We need to have a Government in this country that invests in all parts of the country.

"Those left behind communities that voted Leave did so for a reason, because they were fed up with the way they were being treated by the economic norms of this country and indeed other places.

"So a Labour government would treat the whole country very differently and our relations with Europe would be serious, sensible, positive but also robust."

Shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett refused to confirm that Labour would table a confidence motion in Mrs May if she loses the Brexit vote, saying "let's see what happens".

"If you can tell me whether she will still be prime minister on Tuesday evening, then perhaps I can tell you what exactly we will do next."

Labour's policy is to call for a general election, but if that is not possible then all options – including a second referendum – remain open.

But Mr Trickett said passing legislation and organising another referendum may take until May or June 2019, after the UK's scheduled exit from the EU on March 29.

And he warned: "If people feel that the privileged political elite has decided by subterfuge to find a way of reversing the previous referendum, that would cause us some difficulty, and rightly so."

Brexit select committee chairman Hilary Benn acknowledged that his amendment to Tuesday's Commons motion could, if passed, limit the scale of the defeat Theresa May suffers.

The Labour MP's amendment would reject Mrs May's Brexit plan and the possibility of a no-deal departure from the European Union.

That may not attract as many Tory rebels as a straight vote on Mrs May's plan "because some of them think you can leave with no deal," Mr Benn acknowledged.

"Ruling out leaving with no deal now, I think is really important for the future of the country, because otherwise you prolong the uncertainty.

"I don't think there's a majority in the House of Commons for leaving with no deal. I don't actually think the government would be foolish enough to say 'OK, we are leaving with no deal', so why carry on pretending?

"Let's give parliament the chance to say, clearly, we reject your deal, we also reject no deal, and then other possibilities will open up."

Ms McVey, on her own leadership ambitions, said: "If people asked me, then of course you'd give it serious thought and do it – if people asked me.

"But at the moment I'm looking at who is in papers, who we can get behind but it shouldn't be about the personality, it should be about the country and this deal."

Ms McVey earlier outlined how there were "voices of dissent" during the five-hour Cabinet meeting to discuss the Brexit deal, and she asked for a vote at the end.

Asked about claims about her briefed to the media, Ms McVey said: "All we needed to know was what did people think? And in all honesty I think it says there was a meltdown in the cabinet.

"The meltdown was from the others not wanting to put their name next to a vote – it certainly wasn't from me asking for one."

Brexit minister Kwasi Kwarteng said "my understanding is that we will have a vote on Tuesday", following reports that Theresa May could delay the showdown with MPs.

"I think we've got a good shot of winning," he told Sophy Ridge On Sunday.

Questioned on whether he could accept a Norway-plus Brexit if the prime minister's deal is defeated, Mr Kwarteng said: "I, speaking personally, would not want the Norway-plus... arrangement because it simply doesn't allow us to have our own immigration policy.

"Clearly free movement of people was a big issue in the referendum campaign."

Asked if he would quit if that became government policy he said: "Let's just wait and see. I think we have to win the vote on Tuesday and then after that we can see where we are."

Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay insisted the vote would happen on Tuesday.

"The vote is going ahead," he told BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

"That's because it is a good deal, it's the only deal and it's important we don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Mr Barclay said "we are making the case" for the deal, after being challenged on whether the prime minister was heading for defeat.

Insisting that there would be no more negotiations with Brussels, he said: "The risk for those who say simply go back and ask again, the risk is that isn't necessarily a one-way street.

"The French, the Spanish and others will turn round, if we seek to reopen the negotiation, and ask for more."

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson claimed the backstop measure left the UK open to "blackmail" by the European Union.

He told BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "The real problem with the backstop arrangement is it gives the power to Brussels and to all the other EU member states effectively to blackmail us and to get what they want out of the future trade negotiation.

"It is a diabolical negotiating position."

He refused to rule out challenging Theresa May for the party leadership.

Asked if he would promise not to stand against the Prime Minister he said: "I will give you an absolute, categorical promise that I will continue to advocate what I think is the most sensible plan."

But he said it was "nonsense" to suggest he had already begun offering fellow Tories jobs in a future administration.

Justice minister Rory Stewart said it was "overwhelmingly likely" that the vote will happen on Tuesday, although he acknowledged that "nothing is beyond any doubt at the moment".

On BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, he said that if the deal was defeated "there isn't really at this late stage any real alternative" and only minor alterations could be made to the deal.

Mr Stewart accepted it would be "very difficult" to win the vote on Tuesday and said he had only managed to change one MP's mind on the deal.

"Myself and colleagues are going round talking to everybody we can to try to explain to them why they are perhaps not understanding the reality of the backstop, why they may be underestimating the dangers that would be run in March or April of leaving, but I'm afraid it's going to be difficult to get everybody back by Tuesday," he said.

"I've managed to persuade one person, I think, to change their mind, only ... the reality is that people have really dug themselves in."

European Council president Donald Tusk said "it will be an important week for the fate of Brexit" after speaking to Theresa May.

At the People's Vote and Best for Britain rally in east London, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said there was a clear message to Theresa May: "We don't want your vision of a mean-minded little Britain, with our borders closed and our horizons narrowed.

"We don't want a future that betrays the hopes and dreams of our young people, who overwhelmingly want to stay inside the European Union.

"We say that Britain is better than that, we deserve better than that."

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price told the rally the Brexit debate was a "parliamentary tug-of-war, perched on the edge of a precipice".

"Mrs May wants us to abseil to a ledge half-way down where we will spend the next 10 years in a sleeping bag tethered to the cliff face.

"Others want us to recreate Boris Johnson's famous zipwire moment, but this time without the helmet, without the harness, even without the zipwire - just two plastic Union Jacks fluttering in our hands as we plummet."

Labour frontbencher Rosena Allin-Khan told the rally: "When this deal is voted down by Parliament, I want us to call for a general election the very next day and if that is rejected then we need a people's vote."

The shadow sport minister said: "Do not let them tell you it is betraying the will of the people because the biggest betrayal is that of our children, our hospital patients, our much-valued NHS workforce.

"We have had two general elections in the last three years and nobody is telling us that they were undemocratic.

"The current government is run on confidence and supply, and let's face it, confidence in our current government is in very short supply."

Labour's policy is to call for a general election and if that is not possible then all options remain open - including the possibility of a second vote.

Dr Allin-Khan made clear that was her preferred option in those circumstances: "If a call for a general election is rejected, I will be backing a people's vote."

Appearing on Channel 4's Real Brexit Debate, Tory deputy chairman James Cleverly said: "Our deal delivers on what people voted for. It takes back control of our money, our borders, our laws.

"It means we can get on with Brexit and give more time to focus on other important issues like the NHS."

He added: "The only thing we know for sure is that rejecting this deal means damaging uncertainty and, as a Brexiteer, the thing that worries me the most is the risk we do not leave the EU at all."

But Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said the deal "does not do what the prime minister said" on the customs union, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

"There are 68 pages of laws that will apply in Northern Ireland that will be adjudicated and made by the European Union," he said.

Mr Cleverly said "all those instances are entirely temporary" during the transition period or backstop but Mr Rees-Mogg shot back, saying the Attorney General's advice showed "the backstop could be permanent".

Green MP Caroline Lucas, calling for a second referendum, said politicians were split and the public had changed their minds on Brexit.

She said: "Why don't we just go back and check they are still happy with this?"

Jacob Rees-Mogg told the Channel 4 programme a second referendum would be a "losers' vote".

"This is all about trust," he said. "Across Europe politicians are distrusted – there are riots in France and troubles in Italy.

"Everybody agreed to accept the result of the referendum. Now Theresa May has said one thing and come back with a deal that does another."

Labour's shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said the government had failed and should call an election if the deal is defeated on Tuesday.

"Their botched deal would destroy jobs, it would undermine rights and protections and it would rip our country in half," he said.

Tory deputy chairman James Cleverly said: "No one really knows what the Labour Party want at all."

He added: "On March 29 we get to leave, let's just take the deal and get out."

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