Theresa May soldiers on in face of more resignations as Michel Barnier voices concern about Chequers deal

Leo Varadkar said the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson were internal matters for the British government
Leo Varadkar said the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson were internal matters for the British government

Theresa May's efforts to put Monday's double Brexit resignations behind her were dealt a blow yesterday as two Tory vice-chairs quit over the Chequers Brexit plan.

The day had begun well for Mrs May as senior ministers rallied around the prime minister at the first meeting of her new cabinet.

As she gathered her team at Downing Street, leading Brexiteer Michael Gove signalled emphatically that he will not be following Boris Johnson and David Davis out of the cabinet, declaring that he backed the prime minister's plans "100 per cent".

But later in the day Conservative vice-chairs Ben Bradley and Maria Caulfield resigned their posts, citing opposition to last week's Chequers agreement.

In his resignation letter, Mr Bradley said Brexit could not be delivered in spirit because of the "decision to accept the backstop agreements for Northern Ireland".

"I understand why you perhaps felt that you had to take that decision at that time, but it now becomes the barrier to the kind of wide-ranging free-trade agreement with the EU that many in our party and the country would like to see," he said.

"It has become a problem rather than a solution, but the Northern Ireland backstop cannot be allowed to become the deciding factor for the whole of the UK’s economy and trade policies."

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier meanwhile cast doubt on the merits of last week's Chequers deal, which advocates strong economic ties to Brussels after Brexit.

Speaking to the US Council on Foreign Relations in New York, he warned that the EU would not compromise on the four freedoms of the single market.

"Everybody will understand that we will protect the single market which is based on the indivisibility of what we call the four freedoms, of movement, for people, goods, services and capital," he said.

Mr Barnier said both sides would have to find a compromise on the Irish border.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar appeared more conciliatory in the Dáil, saying the EU would be flexible in Brexit negotiations if the UK could relax from some of its red line issues.

"If the United Kingdom was able to relax from some of its red lines, then the European Union could be flexible too. I think we are

now entering into that space," the Fine Gael leader said.

The taoiseach said the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson were internal matters for the British government and the Conservative party.

He welcomed the Chequers statement, saying it could "input into the talks on the future relationship".

"We would like to see the white paper first ... I imagine there will be a lot more in a 100-page paper than there is in a three-page paper," he said.

During leaders' questions, Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin said the double resignations from Mrs May's cabinet should not distract from the key message in the Chequers statement.

He credit should be given to Theresa May for navigating the Chequers agreement, which he felt rendered it impossible for hardline Brexiteers to stay in office.

Sinn Féin president Mary-Lou McDonald pressed Mr Varadkar for clarity on the backstop.

"The British would say we need a backstop, in other words they disavow what was agreed in December in effect by rejecting the protocol from March," she said.

"Are you saying to us, taoiseach, that that protocol is still open for negotiation as far as you are concerned?"

Mr Varadkar replied that he is more concerned about the outcome than legal texts.

In London meanwhile, deep anger remained at what many Eurosceptic Tories have branded "Brexit in name only".

However it was unclear whether they had the numbers to force a leadership challenge.