Jeremy Hunt - Approving May's deal 'will be challenging'
Today the Prime Minister joined senior political leaders in Brussels to announce the final Brexit agreement reached between her government and the European Union. The deal was approved by the heads of government of the 27 other member states, but it now faces an uncertain future before the House of Commons. The Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was interviewed by Andrew Marr, who asked about the difficulties ahead:
AM: How many Tory MPs do you think will vote against this?
JH: Well that’s a very difficult question and the arithmetic at the moment is looking challenging, but a lot can change over the next two weeks. But I think what all of my colleague will be doing is thinking what is in the national interest.
AM: ...Is it possible the government simply collapses?
JH: It’s not possible to rule out anything... We have to work out what’s in the national interest and it’s all about the balance of risks. Because this isn’t a perfect deal for everyone, but it does have a lot of what everyone wants.
Hunt acknowledged that the deal contained several compromises, but continued, 'My colleagues... will be looking at this and they will say, 'We have got between 70%-80% of what we want, and the question is - can this be a staging post to getting 100%?''. He added that gridlock in the Commons would lead to 'a huge degree of uncertainty'. Hunt also vowed to keep fighting for the release of the detained UK citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, saying of the Iranian regime, 'If they want respect, then do not start locking up innocent people as a tool of diplomatic leverage', and urged Iran to offer medical assistance to both Zaghari-Ratcliffe and another unnamed prisoner.
Arlene Foster - We may review our confidence and supply agreement
Keeping the pressure up on the government was the DUP leader Arlene Foster. Foster made clear her displeasure at Theresa May's deal and suggested that the confidence and supply arrangement drawn up between the DUP and the government after last year's general election was on thin ice:
AM: Is your deal with Theresa May to support her government still live?
AF: It is still live. But you should remember also that the deal was signed to deliver on Brexit and to do that in a way that had shared principles between the Democratic Unionist Party and the Conservative party.
AM: And so at what point would it expire, that agreement?
AF: Well, I think... if it came to the situation that Parliament did decide... to back this deal, then obviously we would have to review the confidence and supply agreement.
Foster told Marr that 'there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of enthusiasm in the House of Commons for this deal', adding 'I don’t see any circumstances at present where that vote will be able to go ahead in Theresa May’s favour'. Instead she urged the Prime Minister to 'look for a better deal now instead of wasting time and having to do that after the vote is taken'. Foster also did not deny being party to negotiations with dissident Cabinet ministers exploring the possibility of a so-called 'Norway deal’, merely stating 'we’re talking to everybody across government'.
Tony Blair - 'Why are we doing it?'
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed today's deal with Marr and reiterated his case for putting the deal to a second referendum. Marr challenged him as to whether this was really the best path to pursue:
AM: You want to take it back to another referendum. Can I put it to you, it’s a bit like that glorious day for you in 1997, you’ve been elected Prime Minister... and the police knock on the door and say, I’m terribly sorry, we’ve had a discussion and we’re going to rerun the election. You would have been absolutely horrified...
TB: ...The issue for the Brexit people is precisely the reason why we should go back and put it to the people for a final vote, because the very people who agitated most strongly for Brexit are now saying this isn’t Brexit and therefore literally why are we doing it? We’re not doing it to satisfy them and it obviously doesn’t satisfy people like me... I think this is a kind of botched Brexit.
Blair referred to the choice as 'between painful and pointless', and called Theresa May's deal 'a dodo'. He also opined that 'if the Conservative party had a general election with Brexit unresolved, it really would be a suicidal act'. However, Blair had warmer words for May on a personal level, telling Marr 'I think she’s shown a degree of courage in standing up and getting on and you know she’s a decent person, frankly surrounded by a lot of pretty unreasonable ones... I respect the fact she manages to stand up and get on with it'.
Lisa Nandy - May's Brexit deal 'too big a gamble'
Lisa Nandy, the Labour MP and one time shadow cabinet member spoke to Sophy Ridge about Theresa May's withdrawal agreement. As the MP for Wigan, an area which voted heavily for Brexit, Nandy had been identified as a potential source of support for the government's deal. Instead however, Nandy told Ridge why she felt that she was unable to endorse what had been agreed this morning:
SR: We’ve now got that endorsement from the EU leaders. Is the deal on the table something that you will be supporting?
LN: ...I won’t be voting to support the withdrawal agreement. The problem isn’t the withdrawal agreement itself, it’s this 26 page political declaration that comes alongside it that... offers no guide as to what the future holds for the UK... There’s been no attempt to reach out to Labour MPs like me. I haven’t had a single phone call from the other side, as well as very little attempt to talk to the front bench or to the trade unions either, and it’s just too big a gamble for MPs like me to take with our constituents’ futures.
Nandy went on to say that she was 'calling for an extension to Article 50', adding 'we’ve wasted a lot of time, but we need to take the time to get this right'. She also raised another possible solution to resolve a parliamentary impasse, telling Ridge that 'in Ireland for example they have used Citizen’s Assemblies to try and break that deadlock and make recommendations to Parliament'.
Jean-Claude Juncker - I am deeply sad for the UK's grandchildren
And finally, as the ink at last began to dry on the UK's withdrawal agreement, the EU's President Jean-Claude Juncker expressed his deep regret to journalists that the two were poised to go their separate ways:
JCJ: I am very sad today because seeing the United Kingdom - which is not something less than important... leave the EU is a moment of sadness. We have reached the best possible deal for the UK and EU but I’m deeply sad. It’s the wrong decision taken by the British people... This is the best deal we could have achieved but if I was a British citizen I would be deeply sad when imagining the life of my grandchildren.