Theresa May forced to deny agreeing secret Brexit deal as Brexiteers fear UK surrender

Theresa MaySean Gallup/Getty Images

  • Theresa May spends 24 hours reassuring pro-Brexit
    ministers that she hasn’t secretly agreed to a Brexit
  • UK and EU negotiators deny weekend reports that a deal
    is done.
  • Brexiteers are suspicious that May is ready to make big
    concessions on the thorny subject of the backstop in order to
    have a deal in place as soon as possible.
  • Senior EU and Irish officials insist they will not back
    down on the backstop for avoiding a hard Irish border.
  • Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, will make a
    speech on Monday evening.


LONDON — Theresa May has been forced to reassure pro-Brexit
ministers that she hasn’t yet reached a Brexit deal with the
European Union amid reports that she has secretly made major
concessions to Brussels.

The prime minister reportedly spent Sunday
telephoning members of her Cabinet to rubbish weekend reports that a Brexit
Withdrawal Agreement had virtually been agreed by UK and EU

Senior ministers want to agree on a deal with the EU this month
in order to negate the need for expensive no deal planning and
allow Parliament enough time to scrutinise and vote on the terms
of the agreement.

However, the UK government is also keen to dispel suspicion among
pro-Brexit Conservatives that May is preparing to make major
concessions in order to strike a deal with the EU as soon as

“We are not sitting on powder keg knowledge that we have
signed a secret deal,” a UK government source told The Guardian. “We are not
on the cusp of some seismic shift.”

Last month, a source close to
Cabinet Brexiteers Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey and Penny
Mordaunt told Business Insider that all three were prepared to
resign if May agrees to a temporary customs union with the EU
without a fixed end date.

EU figures have also rejected suggestions that a deal is done.
Brussels sources claim there
is just a 50-50 chance of there even being a deal, while
negotiators seemingly have a lot of work still to do to resolve
major issues.

UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab reportedly left Irish
officials “stunned” last week by demanding that the UK has the
right to unilaterally terminate any backstop for the Irish border
after three months of it being in place.

EU and Irish officials are adamant that the backstop — the
fallback option for guaranteeing no return to a hard border on
the island of Ireland — must be in place until no longer
necessary, not a fixed end date.

On Monday morning, Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney
tweeted: “The Irish position remains consistent and v clear⁩ that
a “time-limited backstop” or a backstop that could be ended by UK
unilaterally would never be agreed to by IRE or EU. These ideas
are not backstops at all + don’t deliver on previous UK

He was backed up by Sabine Weyand, the EU’s Deputy Chief Brexit
negotiator, who quoted Coveney’s tweeting saying: “Still
necessary to repeat this, it seems.”

Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney
Foreign Minister Simon Coveney speaks during a news conference in
Dublin, Ireland, April 12, 2018.

REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

May will address her Cabinet on Tuesday with key questions
regarding the UK’s Brexit proposals still unanswered.

The UK is trying to persuade the EU to ditch its preferred
Northern Ireland-only backstop and accept an alternative version
in which the entire UK stays in a customs union with the EU for a
period of time after the 21-month transition period has ended.
This would mean no new customs checks between Northern Ireland
and the Republic.

However, while this deals with customs, it does not address the
tricky issue of regulations.

If Northern Ireland alone stays wedded to EU regulations, this
would create new border checks between Northern Ireland and the
rest of the UK relating to agriculture. The EU’s chief Brexit
negotiator, Michel Barnier, said last month that checks on live
animals and animal-derived products would increase tenfold on
current inspections.

The Democratic Unionist Party that props up May’s fragile
government has described new checks as unacceptable and could
withdraw the support for the Conservatives if the prime minister
fails to satisfy their demands.

Barnier is set to deliver a speech in Brussels at 19:30 (GMT)
where he is set to discuss the current state of Brexit talks.

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