Theresa May will travel to Brussels again this week for more talks with the European President Jean-Claude Juncker days after suffering a further defeat in the Commons over her Brexit strategy.
Over the weekend the Prime Minister issued a desperate plea to Tory MPs to unite behind her, urging them to “move beyond what divides us” and sacrifice “personal preferences” for the national interest.
In her letter to all 317 Conservative MPs, May said the Valentine’s Day defeat was “disappointing” and she would continue to work to secure changes to the Irish backstop.
The backstop is a safety net which would keep an open border on the island whatever the Brexit outcome. It would involve aligning the UK to EU rules post-Brexit and by doing so would stop the UK from striking its own international trade deals.
It is strongly opposed by Brexiteers, but the EU has said they will not offer any legal binding changes to it as their priority is ensuring there is no return to a hard border.
Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will meet the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier tomorrow to discuss the proposals of the Alternative Arrangements Working Group of Tories, who have been seeking a compromise solution to avoid the need for backstop.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will set out what changes he believes would be required to eliminate a legal risk of being indefinitely trapped in the backstop in a speech on Tuesday.
In an appeal for unity 41 days before Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU, May said as party leader she had sought to “steer a course that can unite all pragmatic points of view behind a clear and coherent policy” which honours the referendum and leaves the EU with a negotiated deal.
“I do not underestimate how deeply or how sincerely colleagues hold the views which they do on this important issue – or that we are all motivated by a common desire to do what is best for our country, even if we disagree on the means of doing so,” she said in her letter to MPs.
“But I believe that a failure to make the compromises necessary to reach and take through Parliament a Withdrawal Agreement which delivers on the result of the referendum will let down the people who sent us to represent them and risk the bright future that they all deserve.”
She reiterated that without a deal the UK risks a “combination forming in Parliament that will stop Brexit altogether, whatever the long-term consequences for trust in our democracy”.
It was confirmed last week Labour will back a cross-party plan from backbencher Yvette Cooper – expected to go to a vote on February 27 – which would force the government to conclude its deal by March 13 or allow MPs to vote on no-deal or a second referendum.
Meanwhile, it emerged that former Brexit minister Steve Baker, deputy leader of the European Research Group, told colleagues May’s talks with Brussels were a “complete waste of time”, while CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn warned in the Sunday Times that the UK risks “slipping into an economic crisis” unless a no-deal Brexit is stopped.