Prime minister takes unusual step of briefing planned Brexit remarks to MPs in advance
Theresa May will tell the Commons on Monday that 95% of the Brexit withdrawal agreement and its protocols are settled as she seeks to demonstrate to anxious MPs in her own party that she is making headway in the increasingly fraught divorce talks.
The prime minister is expected to confirm she has resolved with the EU thefuture status of Gibraltar, developed a protocol around the UK’s military base in Cyprus and agreed a mechanism for resolving any future disputes with the EU.
Taking the unusual step of briefing planned remarks to the Commons in advance, May will conclude that “taking all of this together, 95% of the withdrawal agreement and its protocols are now settled” in talks that she has until now largely insisted on keeping secret.
The prime minister is scheduled to make a statement on Monday afternoon, after intense criticism from the Tory right for appearing to have made no progress other than indicating at last week’s European summit that she was open to extending the post-Brexit transition period, prompting renewed speculation about a leadership challenge.
A clearly rattled Downing Street held two conference calls with cabinet ministers over the weekend to update them on the European summit before a cabinet discussion on Brexit on Tuesday. Concerns were raised about the transition period and time-limiting the Irish backstop. “No one is in the mood to be bounced,” said one cabinet source.
May intends to show the progress made by highlighting all the specific areas of agreement already reached, including settling the divorce bill at £39bn, having an implementation period until at least the end of 2020 and recognising the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa.
The withdrawal agreement covers the legal agreement or treaty that the UK will sign with the EU to conclude its exit by 29 March, the end of the article 50 period. May will say that the shape of the deal across “the vast majority” of its text is now clear.
Restive Conservative backbenchers will meet on Wednesday night at a meeting of the 1922 Committee, which will be addressed by the party chair, Brandon Lewis. A total of 48 of them have to write to the committee’s chair, Graham Brady, to demand a confidence vote in May if they are to trigger a leadership challenge that No 10 is desperate to avoid as the Brexit talks come towards their final critical stage.
Two key issues remain unresolved in the Brexit talks: how to ensure that the so-called backstop designed to avoid a hard border in Ireland has an end point and that it does not allow for Northern Ireland to be separated from Great Britain via a customs border.