Brexiteers Threaten to Veto Any Brexit-in-Name-Only Deal

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to 10 Downing Street in central London on December 16, 2020, after taking part in the weekly session of Prime Minister Question (PMQs) at the House of Commons. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

Around 30 Brexiteer Conservative MPs could vote against or abstain over Boris Johnson’s trade deal with the European Union, if the prime minister agrees to a soft Brexit, or ‘Brexit In Name Only’.

Talks between London and Brussels are going down to the wire, with the transition period set to end on December 31st, 2020. Disagreement remains over issues including access to Britain’s lucrative fishing waters, with nations like France demanding the continued unfettered access the had under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy before Brexit.

The Sun reports sources saying that the two sides had managed to whittle down the demand for a decade-long transition on fishing down to six years, but the UK’s negotiators are pushing for four. Despite the European Parliament setting a deadline for Sunday for a deal to be agreed, the “tortured” weekend for talks ended with an agreement to continue discussions on Monday.

One British source told the newspaper that “a landing zone is there but it could take the rest of the year to get there” while another said that any deal agreed by Boris Johnson and his negotiator David Frost with Michel Barnier and the EU could be wrapped up and pushed through the UK parliament “in a day”.

However, Mr Johnson may lack the support of dozens of MPs if it comes to a vote, according to The Guardian. Several senior Members of Parliament from the influential Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG) told the newspaper that around 30 are set to rebel if Mr Johnson concedes to the point where it is deemed not to be a full Brexit, such as if he ties the UK to EU rules indefinitely or surrenders on fishing.

Around hafl of the 70-member ERG are prepared, however, to back the prime minister for the sake of getting any deal done before the end of the transition period. If a deal is not struck, the two sides will trade with each other on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms.

“We are divided between those who say let’s just suck it up and get this done, and others who say they have fought for their entire careers for this and will not vote for a deal that is not really Brexit,” a senior member of the ERG said.

The threats would make little material difference, however, with the other half of the ERG as well as Cabinet members, party loyalists, and even the Labour Party set to agree on a deal. But it would be another blow to Tory unity, particularly in light of rebels voting against and voicing opposition to Mr Johnson’s lockdown measures in recent months, giving rise to the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group.

The ERG’s chairman, Mark Francois, warned the prime minister in an opinion piece for The Telegraph not to expect any support from the new cohort of MPs who represent the Red Wall — the working-class areas of Britain which commonly vote Labour, but backed Boris in 2019 over his promise to deliver a full Brexit.

He also cast doubt whether a deal could be passed through parliament in a day, saying that the ERG would be examining it with a “fine-toothed comb”.

Mr Francois wrote: “If there is some unacceptable ‘poison pill’ that truly undermines our sovereignty, buried deep within Article X of the voluminous text, then we will find it.

“To the displeasure not just of all our members but also no doubt all those new ‘Red Wall’ Conservative backbenchers who were elected on an unequivocal pledge to their constituents to ‘get Brexit done’.

“Similarly, any misguided attempt to bounce parliament into voting for such a complex treaty, before people have even had time to examine it properly, would go down like a lead balloon on the backbenches.”

The ERG chairman added: “If the EU will not accept that we are now a fully independent sovereign state then there is unlikely to be a deal anyway and we will simply trade on Australian/WTO terms instead, much as most of the world does successfully already.”

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