Matthew Taylor

Sunday shows roundup: Theresa May’s Brexit warning

Sunday shows roundup: Theresa May's Brexit warning
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Theresa May - Brexit will be harder without me

The Prime Minister joined Sophy Ridge this morning to discuss the result of the government's draft withdrawal agreement with the European Union, which was released on Wednesday. The controversial 585 page document has already seen several resignations, with other ministers thought to be considering their positions. There has also been considerable discontent on the Conservative backbenches, with the influential European Research Group now calling for a vote of no confidence in May's leadership. In response, May told Ridge that her critics needed to get their priorities straight:

TM: A change of leadership at this point isn’t going to make the negotiations any easier, and it’s not going to change the parliamentary arithmetic. What it will do is bring in a degree of uncertainty... for people and their jobs, and what it will do is mean that it will be a risk if we delay those negotiations, and that’s a risk if Brexit gets delayed and frustrated. I’m clear that if people voted for us to leave, we will leave, and we will leave on the 29th March 2019.

May said that she did not know if the threshold of 48 dissatisfied Conservative MPs had yet been met in order to trigger a leadership challenge, something which was later confirmed by the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady. She dismissed claims that some MPs were trying to bully her, commenting that 'politics is a tough business'. On the 'backstop' arrangement for Northern Ireland, which has seen the Brexit Secretary leave the government, May referred to it as 'an insurance policy... that we never intend to use' and insisted that it could 'only ever be temporary'. She also confirmed that she would be meeting Jean-Claude Juncker and others next week for further talks.

Jeremy Corbyn - A Labour re-negotiation is a serious option

Sophy Ridge also interviewed the Labour leader for his reaction to the Prime Minister's draft withdrawal document. Corbyn confirmed that the Labour position would be to vote against it in Parliament. Ridge then challenged him on what would happen if Corbyn found himself in government before the Brexit deadline day:

SR: In just three months, do you really think you could negotiate a better deal than the government? Is that fantasy politics?

JC: The EU is very used to 11th-hour stuff. Look at the way the Lisbon Treaty was negotiated, renegotiated and renegotiated again. The issue has to be you go back to Europe and say ‘listen, our Parliament doesn’t agree with this and doesn’t accept it, the people of this country don’t.’ There are jobs on both sides of the channel at risk here. We need an agreement - a serious, sensible agreement - and I believe the Labour options are the serious ones that could achieve that.

When Ridge asked if Corbyn could achieve this in three months, he replied 'We would go there straight away - there is a transition period that has been agreed anyway, so there would be some opportunities there'. He told Ridge that he believed that Parliament 'would support a permanent customs arrangement with the European Union'. Asked if Brexit could be stopped, Corbyn was non-committal, but said 'I don’t think you call a referendum and then say you don’t like the result and go away from it'. On the issue of a second referendum, he said 'I think it’s an option for the future, but it’s not an option for today'.

Dominic Raab - Some of May's agreement is 'fatally flawed'

Later, Andrew Marr was joined by the former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who resigned earlier this week, describing the Northern Irish 'backstop' arrangement as 'a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom', since it would create a new and unique customs arrangement for the province. Raab maintained that he still supported the Prime Minister, but argued that the current draft agreement left a lot to be desired:

DR: I want to make a success of this, but two or three of the changes, as I set out in my resignation letter, I’m afraid rendered this deal fatally flawed. And in good conscience, when you think about the long term good of this country economically, democratically, when I look my kids in the eye and I think what will this country be like in ten years, I didn’t feel able to sign up to this.

As well as being concerned that Northern Ireland would be treated as a 'third country', Raab also bemoaned a future 'combination of customs union and single market', which 'no democratic country in history has ever signed up to'. He said he felt this would be 'debilitating for the...and devastating for trust in our democracy'. When Marr asked who was the architect of the deal, Raab replied 'it was a team effort... so a mixture of the Cabinet'. He added that he and David Davis had 'deputised for the Prime Minister'. He concluded that 'we need to get Brexit over the line, we need to support our Prime Minister. I think there’s still the opportunity to get this right... but she must also listen and change course on Brexit'.

Nicola Sturgeon - This is a 'blindfold Brexit'

The Scottish First Minister also gave her verdict on the Prime Minister's deal, clarifying that the SNP would almost certainly be whipped to vote against it in the House of Commons:

NS: As things stand just now the SNP MPs will vote against what is being put before the House of Commons and let me set out very clearly why, but also set out clearly what I think should happen now. The Withdrawal Agreement... has lots of flaws within it. But more fundamentally there is no clarity whatsoever about the future relationship between the UK and the EU. So the House of Commons is going to be asked to effectively endorse a blindfold Brexit, where all the difficult issues that have dogged these negotiations for two and a half years, are simply kicked further down the road. I think it would be a mistake and deeply irresponsible for the House of Commons to endorse that.

Sturgeon also asserted that the time was right 'for those who reject this deal to come forward with the alternatives'. In addition to keeping the UK within the EU's single market and customs union, Sturgeon also suggested the 'extension of Article 50' as a possibility in order to negotiate a new deal. She also told Marr that the so-called 'Norway option' would 'not involve the UK going back into the Common Fisheries Policy', a major grievance of many Scottish fishing communities during the referendum.

Kwasi Kwarteng - Brexit 'cannot be stopped'

And finally, the recently promoted Brexit minister Kwasi Kwarteng has defended the Prime Minister's deal, while contradicting her on one fundamental point from her interview with Sophy Ridge:

AM: I'm unsure what the Prime Minister meant when she said 'Brexit could be stopped'.

KK: The notion is that people opposed to the deal... an unholy alliance between people who want to stay in the EU for whatever reason, and people who think that the deal isn't strong enough...

AM: So the deal falls. But they can't stop us leaving the EU?

KK: I don't think they can. I think we're going to leave on 30th March...

AM: So Brexit cannot be stopped?

KK: It cannot be stopped.