Brexit: Theresa May told not to ‘run down clock’ on deal

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Image caption Jo Johnson quit last month, calling the Brexit deal “a terrible mistake”

Theresa May is trying to “run down the clock” and minimise Parliament’s role in Brexit, a former minister has said.

Jo Johnson – who resigned as transport minister over the PM’s handling of negotiations – said MPs should be given a vote on her Brexit deal next week.

His comments come as Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it is still possible to get “a version” of Mrs May’s Brexit deal approved by Parliament.

Another cabinet minister, Amber Rudd, called for cross-party co-operation.

MPs were due to vote on Mrs May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday, but it was postponed when the prime minister admitted it would have been “rejected by a significant margin”.

Mr Johnson – who is Boris Johnson’s brother but voted Remain in the referendum – said he was concerned by the way Downing Street was treating Parliament.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “No 10 could try to leave that vote until the very last minute.

“Effectively, giving the country, giving Parliament, no choice at all except between her deal… and no deal at all.”

He added: “It’s simply unacceptable to run out the clock and face the country with the prospect of being timed-out.”

Labour and the SNP have both said the prime minister should stop wasting time and put the deal to a vote in Parliament.

After postponing the vote in Parliament, Mrs May travelled to Brussels to make a special plea to EU leaders, in a bid to make her deal more acceptable to MPs.

However, the EU said there could be clarification but not renegotiation.

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Media captionTheresa May: ‘If we are to leave with a deal this is it’

Many of Mrs May’s MPs are concerned that the “backstop” – which is aimed at preventing a hard border in Northern Ireland – would keep the UK tied to EU rules and limit its ability to strike trade deals.

On Saturday, Mr Hunt said the EU needed to listen to appeals from the British government to provide “legally enforceable language” that the backstop would be temporary.

He told Radio 4: “The thing that the House of Commons will not accept is any risk of us being permanently trapped through the Northern Irish backstop in the customs union.”

He added that the “only way” the deal would get through Parliament was “to have a version of the deal that the government has negotiated”.

However, BBC deputy political editor John Pienaar said the problem remained that only “an end date or a key to the exit door” would make it possible for the deal to be supported by MPs.

He added: “The EU has shown no indication, publicly or privately at any point, that it is willing to give that.”

Ms Rudd said she supported Mrs May’s deal but advocated assembling a “coalition” to avoid what she called “the rocks of no deal”.

“We need to find a plan that a majority in Parliament can support,” she said.

“We need to try something different. Something that people do in the real world all the time, but which seems so alien in our political culture – to engage with others and be willing to forge a consensus.”

One idea, favoured by at least one cabinet minister, is a series of votes on other plans, such as a relationship similar to Norway’s with the EU, or another referendum.

Presentational grey line

Analysis

By BBC political correspondent Tom Barton

A cabinet split? Certainly, a disagreement between senior ministers over the viability of Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, telling Radio 4’s Today programme that it will be possible to get “a version” of the prime minister’s Brexit deal approved by MPs.

Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, openly musing in the Daily Mail that the government needs need “to try something different” because Parliament is currently headed towards “no compromise, no agreement and no deal”.

For the foreign secretary, the risk of no deal works as leverage in the UK’s attempt to get the EU to reconsider the detail of the Northern Ireland backstop, warning European leaders that “they can’t be sure” Parliament would stop it.

For Amber Rudd, it’s something which “for the sake of all our futures, mustn’t be allowed to happen”.

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Image caption Nigel Farage told a Leave Means Leave rally it was time for Brexit supporters to prepare for another referendum

At a Leave Means Leave rally in London on Friday, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage told the BBC it was “outrageous” another referendum could happen, but added: “I can see where we’re going.”

Mr Farage added the treatment of Mrs May in Brussels this week had been a “shaming moment” for both the UK and the EU and that the prime minister’s Brexit deal was now “dead”.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was time “to stop this pretence” and “bring the vote to Parliament”.