Longstanding Brexiteers David Davis and Sir Bill Cash hinted that they might not back a deal agreed by the Prime Minister if he only alters the controversial Northern Ireland border plan in a “cut and paste operation”.
The interventions came as Mr Johnson returned to London fresh from talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel aimed at convincing EU leaders to remove the backstop from the existing deal.
The Times reports that Mr Johnson has been “buoyed” by his meeting with Mr Macron, who said that while the backstop was “indispensable”, the two sides may be able to “find something smart within 30 days if there is goodwill on both sides”.
And The Telegraph says officials will now be ordered to “turbocharge” work on finding viable “alternative arrangements” to the plan Brussels has long argued is the only way to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland if future talks between the EU and UK break down.
But, speaking to same paper’s Chopper’s Brexit Podcast, former Brexit Secretary David Davis suggested a string of additional changes to the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May would be needed to win him over.
Those included calls for the UK to refuse to play the full £39bn Brexit divorce bill, as well as stronger curbs on the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Asked if he would back the agreement, Mr Davis said: “I’d argue for contingency on the money. I’d argue for tighter limits, timetable limits, sunset clauses on ECJ and things like that. I’d have a small shopping list.
“It wouldn’t be a ridiculous one, but one I think that any serious European Parliament and any European Council that wants a deal could go with.
“If I were doing this for Boris, I would be insistent on is that they make the bill – the £39 billion, the second half of it – contingent on progress on the future economic partnership.”
Meanwhile Sir Bill Cash, who chairs the House of Commons’ European Scrutiny committee, warned: “You can’t restore self-government as a cut and paste operation and I am sure they understand that – taking parts of the withdrawal agreement.
“We will be governed for a number of years by the other 27 member states under the existing draft withdrawal agreement… even with the backstop removed.”
But Conservative MP Greg Hands, who has penned a 272-page report on alternatives to the backstop, said his plans – which include the use of ‘trusted trader’ schemes and checks away from the Irish border – could be “brought in quite quickly”.
And he talked up the possibility of avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland “without remaining half-shackled to Brussels for ever”.
Writing in the Daily Mail, he said: “It doesn’t mean the EU is yet convinced. It just needs both sides to grasp the opportunity.”
The comments came as The Sun reported that Conservative rebels opposed to a no-deal Brexit have agreed to give Mr Johnson the space to try and find a workable deal before moving against the Government in Parliament.
An ex-Cabinet minister told the paper: “Boris needs to be given a chance to get a new deal.
“Most Tories in the Rebel Alliance will be reluctant to be the obstruction to that by acting prematurely.
“But when the 30 days that Merkel has given him are up, that’s a different matter.”
A senior Government source said MPs were “listening to our appeal for reasonableness, for now”.