Tory Brexiter support for May deal to hinge on legal advice

Michael Gove

Conservative Brexiters have said they will assess the EU’s new assurances based on whether the UK could leave the backstop “at the time of our choosing”, with the decision likely to hinge on the revised legal advice of the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox.

Quick guide

Last-minute backstop changes explained

What was added to May’s withdrawal agreement?

Joint interpretative instrument

A legal add-on to the withdrawal agreement. It gives legal force to a letter from Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, the presidents of the commission and council, given to May in January. This stated the EU’s intention to negotiate an alternative to the backstop so it would not be triggered, or, if it was triggered, to get out of it as quickly as possible.

Unilateral statement from the UK

Sets out the British position that, if the backstop was to become permanent and talks on an alternative were going nowhere, the UK believes it would be able to exit the arrangement.

Additional language in political declaration

Emphasises the urgency felt on both sides to negotiate an alternative to the backstop, and flesh out what a technological fix would look like. Hoped to be enough to persuade the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, to change his initial legal advice that the backstop could be in place indefinitely. Daniel Boffey

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Michael Gove said it was “make your mind up time for all of us” and that MPs would have to balance “a series of risks” when they voted on Theresa May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday evening.

“If we don’t back this new improved deal tonight, we may find ourselves having Brexit delayed and diluted, which I think would be a grave error and would not honour the vote of 17.4 million people,” the environment secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“And there’s another risk that sees us leaving the EU without a deal and that would undoubtedly cause a degree of economic turbulence which would hit jobs and affect the economic prosperity of our citizens.”

May made an 11th-hour dash to Strasbourg on Monday night, announcing the revisions at a joint press conference with Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president.

Juncker said the legal add-on to the Brexit deal, which emphasises the temporary nature of the backstop, “complements the withdrawal agreement without reopening it”.

Cox was to published revised legal analysis of the revisions on Tuesday morning and the Speaker, John Bercow, has hinted he would be open to MPs efforts’ to force Cox to the chamber to answer questions before the debate on the deal is opened by May on Tuesday afternoon.

The former Tory leader and Brexiter Iain Duncan Smith urged May to give MPs another 24 hours before voting.

“If it is correct that this backstop is both temporary and we can leave it at the moment of our choosing, that means we become a balanced partner in the negotiations,” he told…

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