A Damning Verdict: Ministers Quit Over Theresa May’s Brexit ‘Deal’

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Britain’s Theresa May suffered three cabinet resignations in short succession over her “worst deal in history” Brexit agreement, with Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara’s departure being followed shortly by Brexit Minister Dominic Raab and Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey on Thursday morning.

The resignation of the ministers are a damning verdict on Mrs May’s “technical level” deal, and more have followed them on Thursday morning.

Read The Live Updates Below:

Update 1800 — May’s warning to her own MPs

This line from Theresa May’s Q&A is an important takeaway, wherein she issues a veiled threat to any MP who would stand against her, remarking they would be “held to account for their decisions by their constituents.”

Update 1745 — The Prime Minister’s address

The PM made a short statement before answering questions. While there was widespread speculation that she might have been announcing her standing down from the leadership — possibly to fight re-election by Conservative members to confirm her mandate — it quickly became clear this speech was meant to signal her grim determination to push on with her Brexit plan. She said:

Serving in High Office is an honour and privilege. It is also a heavy responsibility that is true at any time, but especially when the stakes are so high.

And negotiating an exit of the EU after 40 years and building from the ground up a new and enduring relationship for our children and grandchildren is a matter of the highest consequence.

It touches almost every area of our national life. Our whole economy and virtually every job. The livelihood of our fellow citizens, our integrity as a United Kingdom of our four nations, our safety and security — all of these are at stake.

My approach throughout has been to put the national interest first — not a partisan interest and certainly not my own political interest. I do not judge those harshly those of my colleagues who seek to do the same but who reach a different conclusion. They must do what they believe to be right, just as I do. I’m sorry that they’ve chosen to leave the government, and I thank them for their service.

But I believe with every fibre of my being that the course I have set out is the right one for the country and all our people.

From the very beginning I’ve known what I wanted to deliver for the British people. To honour they vote in the referendum: full control of the borders by bringing an end to the free movement of people once and for all. Full control of our money so we decide ourselves how to spend it on priorities like our NHS. Full control of our laws by ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK, getting us out of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries policy for good. That is exactly what this agreement will deliver. Free movement ended. Payments, stopped. The jurisdiction of the ECJ, over. Out of the CAP, out of the CFP.

This is the brexit that delivers on the priority of the British people. In achieving these objectives, I’m also protecting the things that are important to us. Protect the hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs. Those jobs rely on cross border trade and goods.

This agreement protects that. Protect the close security cooperation that keeps us safe. This agreement does that.

Protect the integrity of the United Kingdom — this agreement does that as well.

Yes difficult and sometimes uncomfortable decisions have been made. I understand fully that there are some who are unhappy with those compromises, but this deal delivers what the people voted for and is in the national interest. We can only secure it if we unite behind the agreement reached in cabinet yesterday.

If we do not move forward with the agreement nobody will know the consequences that will follow. It would be to take a path of great uncertainty when the British people just want us to get on with it.

That is what we owe to them to deliver.

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Update 1730 — Theresa May defends her Brexit deal to the country

The Prime Minister said she was sorry that her colleagues felt they had to resign but is doubling down on her plan, insisting “This deal delivers what people have voted for it and it is in the national interest.” Looks very clearly that she doesn’t believe she is going anywhere.

“Am I going to see this through? Yes”, she told journalists in a round of questions after her brief statement.

Update 1700 — German MP Blames “Intransigent” Angela Merkel for May’s Brexit woes

The European Union and Germany’s government has pushed Theresa May to where we are now. Read more:

Update 1435 — Will the European Union cling onto Britain until 2099?

Read the full story…

Update 1420 — Jacob Rees-Mogg lays out his vision of where we go now

While making clear that he would not be putting himself forward as a potential new leader in the challenge to Theresa May that is now thought in Westminster to be all but inevitable, prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has a list of names he’d support. Noting the conservative party has a “stream” of top talent for the job, while answering questions outside the Houses of Parliament Thursday afternoon he namechecked several parliamentary colleagues, many of whom have recently resigned from cabinet — and one who hasn’t.

He said: “The Conservative party is lucky to be full of talent and there are many, many people [who could lead]… you’ve got Boris Johnson and David Davis. You’ve got Dominic Raab and Esther McVey. You’ve got Penny Mordaunt… you have streams of talent within the Conservative party who would be very capable of leading a proper Brexit.”

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Mr Rees-Mogg said that while it was possible to try further negotiation and to make an offering to the European Union, all legislation needed to get Britain out had already been passed in parliament and the country was ready to leave unilaterally. This had many benefits, he said, remarking:

“…we will move straight to WTO terms, we will be a third country, and we will operate on that basis. The basis on which we operate with the rest of the world.

“Bear in mind that only seven per cent of the world’s population lives in the European Union. So dealing with the rest of the population of the world is very important.

“But I do think it would be sensible to make a generous offer to the EU on EU nationals rights in this country, in money for a transition implementation period, so I think there are things that can be offered and it would be wise to offer.”

More on this development follows…

Update 1305 — Raab Speaks to the BBC

Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has given his first interview since resigning the cabinet, and while saying little his remarks seem to support claims made in Westminster in the past 48 hours that he as Brexit secretary had little to do with the deal itself, and didn’t even see it until the cabinet got copies yesterday. This will only reinforce the idea that May’s Brexit deal is one that has been struck between the European Union and pro-EU civil servants working in the Cabinet Office like Olly Robbins — not one struck by the BRexit department itself.

In Raab’s own words:

Update 1255 — Jacob Rees-Mogg’s letter goes in

Leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg gave the Prime Minister opportunity to persuade him to not do his part in putting the wheels in motion to remove her earlier in the debate, and it seems clear she failed to reassure him. The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg reports Mr Rees-Mogg is now putting his letter in to the chairman of the Conservative backbench committee, and he has advised the members of the pro-Brexit ERG group he leads to do the same. This may very well be enough to take the letters over the threshold to trigger a challenge.

Two and a half hours into the debate, the back benches of the Conservative party are very empty. Many have left the chamber to plot and talk in secret, away from the cameras.

Update 1225 — Westminster rumours swirl

As the Prime Minister approaches her second hour of statement and questions in the House of Commons, politics continues outside. Britain’s Sky News television reports a spokesman for the Prime Minister will fight any leadership challenge — the fact they are responding to questions on this matter is signiciant — and that hs eexpects to still be in the job in March 2019 at least:

Meanwhile, Telegraph deputy political editor Steven Swinford claims missing Michael Gove — who has not been seen in the chamber — has been offered the now vacant seat of Brexit secretary. Opportunity? Or poisoned challice?

Update 1150 — Shock: A Tory MP says the PM shouldn’t resign
A rare moment of support for the Prime Minister as former minister Stephen Crabb suggests that it was inevitable that no Brexit deal would ever satisfy everyone and this “difficult moment” was not the time to “walk away from our responsibilities to govern and lead the country at this difficult time”. The Prime Minister took his point, responding that it was the time not to make decisions on how an individual might like the world to be, but to actually act on how it actually is.

Update 1130 — Rees-Mogg sticks the knife in

Greeted with hushed noises in the chamber — unlike many of those who have spoken before who were met by jeers — prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has stuck the knife in with his carefully worded statement. Asking why exactly he shouldn’t do his part to bring about a leadership contest by putting a letter to Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 backbench committee which is the Conservative party’s own peculiar method of deciding that, he said:

My right honourable friend — and she is unquestionably honourable — said that we would leave hte Customs Union. Annex two says otherwise.

My right honourable friend said that she would maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom. A whole protocol says otherwise.

My right honourable friend said that we would be out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Article 174 says otherwise.

As my right honourable friend says, and what my right honourable friend does no longer match, should I not write to my right honourable friend the member for Altringham [Graham Brady], and sail west?

Responding, the Prime Minister said “some difficult decisions had to be made… because it is important that we do ensure there is no hard border” between Northern Ireland and the European Union. She also appealed to Rees-Mogg to consider the future relationship with the European Union, but offered no advice on whether he should write a letter calling for her resignation.

Update 1123 — Ulster speaks, and it isn’t happy — ‘Vassal state’ 

An explosive contribution in the chamber from Belfast North MP and DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds. Without the DUP’s 10 votes they lend on the basis of an agreement with Theresa May, the Prime Minister leads a minority government without enough guaranteed votes to pass legislation reliably. He said:

Mr Speaker, I could today stand here and take the Prime Minister through the list of promises and pledges she made to this house, and to us privately, about the future of Northern Ireland in the future relationship with the EU. But I fear it would be a waste of time, since she clearly doesn’t listen.

Can I clearly say today, that this house now has a clear choice and every member in it, that this house has been left in a position where the choice is subjection to the rules and laws of others who may not have our interests at heart, and for Northern Ireland and our precious Union — five of those who have resigned today have talked about the threat to the integrity of the Union and I praise them for their integrity for that they have said and done and for their strong actions.

£39bn for nothing. The choice is now clear, we stand up for the United Kingdom, the whole United Kingdom, the integrity of the United Kingdom, or we vote for a vassal state with the breakup of the United Kingdom.

Dismissing his concerns, the Prime Minister said the commitments she made remained “absolutely”, to which Mr Nodd was seen shaking his head in apparent despair. The Prime Minister said she believed she was working to preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom, and that the backstop was not something she or the European Union wished to see activated.

Update 1115 — Iain Duncan Smith goes in

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has expressed the widely held concern that the deal May is calling for would totally strip the United Kingdom of crucial sovereign rights, given the UK can unilaterally withdraw from NATO or the United Nations at will, but would be unable to do so from the European Union because to leave the backstop would require the permission of a foreign power at Brussels.

Responding, the Prime Minister admits “mutual consent” is indeed required.

Update 1050 — Corbyn responds

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has taken apart Theresa May’s Brexit plan, noting that she has breached a number of her own lines and the ambiguity of the document in defining a potential extension date for the so-called Brexit-backstop to ’20xx’ means the nation could be held in the European Union until 2099.

Update 1045 — Where’s Gove?

Reported to have been the Brexiteer in cabinet most clearly in favour of May’s deal during Wednesday’s meeting, Michael Gove is notably absent on the front bench at the Prime Minister’s statement.

Update 1030 — The Prime Minister Speaks to the House

As promised last night, the Prime Minister is making a statement to the House of Commons on her proposed Brexit deal. Making brief reference to the multiple cabinet resignations her government has been struck by this morning, Theresa May said the country was “close” to a Brexit deal and said the draft treaty would allow the country to leave the European Union “in a smooth and orderly manner”.

Update 1025 — May loses a clutch of Junior ministers

The resignations continue apace after Wednesday night’s extraordinary Cabinet meeting. Brexit minister — until this morning under Dominic Raab — Suella Braverman has stood down like those before her citing deep concern over the arrangements for Northern Ireland.

She was followed very shortly afterwards by Parliamentary Private Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan from the Education Department, saying the deal makes clear that the British government has been trying to “appease the EU and we have allowed ourselves to be led into a deal which is unacceptable”.

Read the original story, including the resignations of Dominic Raab and Esther McVey below:

Shailesh Vara was first to go, and told the BBC on Thursday morning that “I quit because I don’t believe that this is the right agreement for our country.”

Dominic Raab followed shortly afterwards and published his letter to the Prime Minister to Twitter. Little more than an hour later, work and pensions secretary Esther McVey followed, also publishing her letter to the Twitter platform.

Raab wrote:

“I regret to say that, following the Cabinet meeting yesterday on the Brexit deal, I must resign… For my part, I cannot support the proposed deal for two reasons. First, I believe that the regulatory regime proposed for Northern Ireland presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom.

“Second, I cannot support an indefinite backstop arrangement, where the EU holds a veto over our ability to exit… No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to decide the exit arrangement,” he said.

“Above all, I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election. This is, at its heart, a matter of public trust.”

The problems with Theresa May’s proposed deal identified with Raab spell significant future difficulties for the government. May leads a minority administration supported by a group of 10 Ulster MPs — and Raab’s observation that the deal imperils the integrity of the Kingdom clearly contravenes the agreements Mrs May has with the parties.

The Daily Telegraph reported overnight that Mr Raab — who himself replaced David Davis as Brexit minister when he resigned over Mrs May’s soft Brexit plan — had been “feeling down” over how negotiations had turned out.

McVey — a keen Brexiteer who was said to be “on the brink” of resigning over May’s deal overnight made it official Thursday morning a 1000 GMT when she wrote the deal as presented failed to deliver on the Prime Minister’s promises.

This story is developing

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