Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab Quits Over Latest Exit Deal Between London and Brussels

Published November 15th, 2018 - 09:32 GMT
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab (Twitter)
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab (Twitter)

Dominic Raab dramatically quit today saying he could not 'in good conscience' support Theresa May's Brexit deal.

The Brexit Secretary dropped the bombshell news on the morning after the PM forced the terms of her proposed plan through Cabinet in a stormy five-hour meeting.

Mr Raab had understood to have endorsed the draft deal 'with a heavy heart' at the meeting yesterday, but harboured deep concerns about the Irish border backstop.

His decision could now spark a series of other departures - potentially posing a fatal threat to Mrs May's leadership.

Mrs Raab said he had 'ensuring respect' for Mrs May but added: 'Today, I have resigned as Brexit Secretary. I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.'

It is the second resignation in quick succession after Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara announced his departure, claiming Mrs May is trying to 'shackle' Britain to the EU 'indefinitely'.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey and Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt are also believed to be on the edge.

In his resignation letter, Mr Raab said: ‘I regret to say that, following the Cabinet meeting yesterday on the Brexit deal, I must resign.

‘I understand why you have chosen to pursue the deal with the EU on the terms proposed, and I respect the different views held in good faith by all of our colleagues.

‘For my part, I cannot support the proposed deal for two reasons. First, I believe that the regulatory regime proposed for Northern Ireland presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom.

‘Second, I cannot support an indefinite backstop arrangement, where the EU holds a veto over our ability to exit.

‘The terms of the backstop amount to a hybrid of the EU Customs Union and Single Market obligations.

‘No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement.

‘That arrangement is no also taken as the starting point for negotiating the Future Economic partnership.

‘If we accept that, it will severely prejudice the second phase of negotiations against the UK.’

Mr Vara said the draft agreement 'leaves the UK in a halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally be a sovereign nation'.

In an eviscerating resignation letter he added: 'We are a proud nation and it is a sad day when we are reduced to obeying rules made by other countries who have shown that they do not have our best interests at heart. We must and can do better than this'.

The major blow came as the Prime Minister must try to convince her mutinous MPs and divided cabinet to back her Brexit vision during the biggest Commons speech of her life later. 

Mrs May has acknowledged she has 'difficult days' ahead with Brexiteers in her party openly plotting to topple her - but standing firm last night she told the rebels it will be her deal or 'no Brexit at all' and warned: 'It is this or Jeremy Corbyn'.  

Today Mrs May will face a hostile reception in the Commons as she presents her draft plan to MPs with critics including Jacob Rees-Mogg claiming she had 'shattered their trust' by claiming her Brexit deal is 'the best that could be negotiated'. 

Meanwhile in Brussels President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, revealed the EU's 27 leaders would rush to ratify the deal in ten days time - but there are still major doubts it will survive that long.

Speaking this morning he confirmed an emergency summit will take place on Sunday November 25 and said: 'Let me say to our British friends: as much as I am sad to see you leave, I will do everything to make this farewell the least painful possible, both for you and for us'.

Last night the PM emerged from a marathon Cabinet meeting to claim a decisive breakthrough and said her cabinet came to a collective decision to back the settlement with Brussels having apparently told them it was 'this or Jeremy Corbyn'

But at least 10 ministers in the bruising five-hour meeting spoke out against her deal and the fallout from the discussions left at least one minister - Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey - on 'resignation watch' with more that could follow.  

The cabinet meeting is said to have exploded when Esther McVey called for a formal ministerial vote during the tempestuous debate over the draft agreement before Mrs May rebuffed her.

Others who declared themselves against the plans included International Trade Minister Liam Fox, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and Home Secretary Sajid Javid. 

After the Cabinet battle, which went on three hours longer than scheduled, the premier took to the steps of Downing Street admitting that the debate had been 'long and impassioned' and there were 'difficult days ahead'.

'The collective decision of Cabinet was that the government should agree the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the outline political declaration,' Mrs May said. 'I firmly believe with my head and heart that this decisive choice is in the best interests of the entire UK.' 

Mrs May's reference to a 'collective' decision rather than a unanimous one immediately raised eyebrows. Around 10 ministers - nearly a third of the total - are understood to have spoken out against parts of the package, amid reports that a no confidence vote against the PM could be triggered as early as today. 

Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt, who was thought to be among those closest to quitting, demanded assurances from the premier on key points. Defence Secretary Gavin Willliamson also expressed reservations about elements of the deal, as did Sajid Javid, Liam Fox, Jeremy Hunt and Andrea Leadsom.

But one Cabinet source told MailOnline that Ms McVey was an 'outlier' in the strength of her opposition, and appeared 'emotional'. 

There are also rumours swirling about Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab's intentions after he endorsed the plans with a 'heavy heart'. 

Scottish Secretary David Mundell had emerged as a potential risk after he signed a letter warning against giving away fishing rights as part of the agreement, but tonight confirmed that he was staying in the tent.

However, the apparent victory for the PM could be only temporary respite, as she faces an even bigger task to get the measures through Parliament amid a massive mutiny from Tory backbenchers and the DUP, and Labour opposition.

There are growing signs that Mrs May could face an imminent no confidence vote. The Eurosceptic ERG group - which claims to have up to 80 Tory MP members - has shifted its position after previously holding off sending letters to the 1922 committee chairman Graham Brady.

An ex-minister told MailOnline: 'I think a few people are holding off, will read the deal, square off their associations this weekend, then put in a letter.' 

Meanwhile, DUP leader Arlene Foster has turned up the heat by warning Mrs May there will be 'consequences' if she pushes her plan through. 

Mrs May delivered an impassioned defence of the package at PMQs earlier, insisting it was a 'significant' step forward in taking the UK out of the EU. 

But she was warned she is making a 'shambolic mess' of the talks by Jeremy Corbyn - and her own MPs said she was 'not delivering the Brexit people voted for'. 

The trouble was brewing as Boris Johnson vented fury over a leaked note claiming the deal means the UK will have to 'swallow' EU rules for good.

The former foreign secretary urged ministers to 'live up to their responsibilities' by blocking the agreement from going forward.  

Mrs May spent much of the morning engaged in frantic efforts to win over wavering ministers to the blueprint ahead of the Cabinet meeting.

Irish PM Leo Varadkar has revealed that if she is successful an EU summit to sign off the pact will be summoned on November 25.

But Mrs May suffered a major blow when it emerged Michel Barnier's deputy, Sabine Weyand, boasted about the divorce package in a briefing for Brussels officials.

She apparently claimed the UK will have to 'align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls', bragging that Britain is effectively accepting staying in the customs union for good, and will have to 'swallow' demands over fishing waters.

The extraordinary comments will reaffirm the fears of Brexiteers - and could tip ministers over the edge. 

In a stunningly vicious backlash, Tory Eurosceptics and the DUP have warned Mrs May that her 'days are numbered' if she sticks to the plan. 

Mr Johnson jibed today that the mooted package rules out a looser Canada-style relationship with the EU.

'This means super-Canada impossible. Cabinet must live up to its responsibilities & stop this deal,' he tweeted.  

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey is also considered at high risk of quitting, but the intention of others is unclear. Cabinet sources told MailOnline that things were still 'up in the air'.

Doubts about Mr Mundell were raised when he join 12 other Scottish Tory MPs - in signing a joint letter warning the PM they could not support a deal which failed to restore 'complete control and full sovereignty' over the UK's fishing waters.

Mr Mundell is among the few MPs to have viewed the draft agreement.

In the letter, the MPs warn: 'We could not support an agreement with the EU that would prevent the UK from independently negotiating access and quota shares... We also cannot stay in the Common Fisheries Policy after December 2020.'

Mrs May might be able to survive one or two departures, but fears are running high that the whole process could spectacularly collapse. 

Speaking at PMQs, Mrs May said her package 'brings us significantly closer to delivering on what the British people voted for in the referendum'.

'We will take back control of our laws, borders and our money. We will leave the Commons Fisheries Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy while protecting jobs, security and the integrity of our United Kingdom,' she said.

'I will come back to the House to update it on the outcome.'

But Tory Brexiteer Peter Bone confronted the premier with his concerns, saying: 'If media reports about the EU agreement are in any way accurate, you are not delivering on the Brexit people voted for and today you will lose the support of many Conservative MPs and millions of voters around the country.'

Mrs May insisted she was delivering on the referendum – pointing to curbs on free movement - and added: 'This is a deal that delivers on that vote but in doing so protect jobs, protects the integrity of the United Kingdom and protects the security of people in this country.'

She acknowledged concerns about the fallback position of the UK being closely tied to the EU's customs union becoming a permanent situation but insisted that if the arrangement was needed it would be temporary. 

'I am aware of the concerns that there are, that we don't want to be in a position where the European Union would find it comfortable to keep the UK in the backstop permanently,' she told MPs. 'That's why any backstop has to be temporary.' 

Jeremy Corbyn attacked Mrs May's draft deal, describing it as a 'failure in its own terms'. 

The Labour leader said: 'After two years of bungled negotiations, from what we know of the Government's deal it's a failure in its own terms.' 

But Mrs May shot back by accusing Labour of seeking to 'frustrate' Brexit. 

'Time and time again he has stood up in this House and complained and said that the Government isn't making progress, that the Government isn't anywhere close to a deal,' she said.

'Now when we're making progress and close to a deal he's complaining about that.

At an emergency Cabinet meeting expected to run for a marathon three hours this afternoon, the PM will warn ministers it is now 'make or break' for avoiding a chaotic exit. 

Downing Street claims it has headed off plans that could have led to Northern Ireland being 'annexed' by the EU after Brexit and insists it has laid the groundwork for a 'good deal'.

But according to a note leaked to The Times, Ms Weyand told European ambassadors on Friday that the UK was getting the worst of the deal. 

 'We should be in the best negotiation position for the future relationship. This requires the customs union as the basis of the future relationship,' she said.

'They must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls. They apply the same rules. 

'UK wants a lot more from future relationship, so EU retains its leverage.' 

She added that Britain 'would have to swallow a link between access to products and fisheries in future agreements'. 

Other notes of the remarks were apparently less inflammatory - claiming she had in fact suggested the 'backstop' was the 'starting point' for future trade talks.

 

Mrs May is yet to publish her 400-500 page draft EU withdrawal agreement, but it is understood to include:

A guarantee there will no physical border checks reintroduced between Northern Ireland and the Republic;
A backstop to avoid a hard border that would come into force after a mooted transition period in December 2020 - and last 'unless and until' another solution is put in place.
Brussels is said to have dropped its demand to create a border in the Irish Sea;
But instead the customs union would apply indefinitely to the whole of the UK and Britain could not be able to walk away from the arrangement without approval from an 'independent panel' made up of civil servants from the EU and Britain;
There could also be enhanced regulatory checks between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland;
Commitments to ensure a 'level playing field' during the backstop including accepting EU rules on environmental and labour standards and state aid;
A review due to be held in July 2020, towards the end of the transition period, will decide whether the backstop needs to come into force; 
The three million EU citizens living in the UK and one million British citizens living in the EU will keep all their existing rights post-Brexit;
A divorce bill of between £39billion and £46billion will be paid to Brussels;

DUP leader Arlene Foster - whose 10 MPs are propping Mrs May up in power - has flown to London for crisis talks and to read the Withdrawal Agreement in full.

Speaking to journalists in Parliament's Central Lobby, she warned her party would not 'be led by anyone' and would decide how it votes after seeing the deal.

She said: 'The Prime Minister has been very clear about our position. Just to be clear we wrote to her on November 1.

'If she decides to go against that – to go against herself because on many occasions she has stood up and said she will not break up the United Kingdom… if she decides to go against all of that there will be consequences.'

Ominously, she stressed that the party's confidence and supply deal was with the Tories rather than Mrs May personally.   

DUP chief whip Jeffrey Donaldson upped the pressure earlier by making clear it was currently determined to reject the proposals.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today the Unionist party 'don't fear a general election', when asked whether it would risk Jeremy Corbyn, a long-term supporter of a united Ireland. 

He said: 'It's not about who is prime minister, it's not about who governs the country, it's about the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK, that is fundamental for us. 

'And it is not just us, the DUP does not stand alone on this, we have many friends within the Conservative Party and indeed in some other parties, who believe this deal has the potential to lead to the break-up of the UK. 

'That is not something we can support.' 

If the PM manages to squeeze her plan past Cabinet she will argue it represents the only chance of a deal, or risk crashing out of the EU on March 29 next year.

Mrs May appears to have convinced Brussels to drop its demand that Northern Ireland should remain in the customs union during the transition period that ends on December 31 2020.

But in return she may have agreed to a 'level playing field' measures tying Britain to more EU rules in that period. 

Iain Duncan Smith warned last night that the Prime Minister's 'days were numbered' if she tried to keep the UK tied to Brussels.

Mrs May's ability to get a deal through Parliament was put in doubt when Eurosceptic MPs were joined at an impromptu Westminster briefing by senior figures in the Democratic Unionist Party.

They voiced fury at reports that the proposed agreement could drive a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.  

Intriguingly, Mr Duncan Smith was also seen entering the famous building - although it is thought he was in to talk about a government climbdown over delays to curbs on 'crack cocaine' gambling machines. 

As she left home today, Mrs Leadsom told journalists: 'I've had a good conversation with the PM and I'm looking at the details of the deal today and I'm extremely optimistic that we'll have a good deal, but I'm looking at the details today.'

Moderate Tories accused leading Brexiteers of 'throwing their toys out of the pram' before they have even seen the details of the proposed withdrawal agreement.

And today former foreign secretary Lord Hague cautioned MPs that voting down Mrs May's deal might mean 'Brexit never happens'. 

'For the DUP... they advocated leaving the EU, they also have to face up to the fact that if they vote down a deal because they are not happy with the details, well, the consequences may be that Brexit never happens,' he told the BBC.

However, worryingly for Mrs May, leading Tory Remainer Dominic Grieve said he currently could not support the package.

'I could not look my constituents in the eye and say this would be a better deal than the one we have as a member of the EU,' he said. 

Former minister Philip Lee said he wanted a second referendum. 'Where we're going to end up is not where was promised. This is political fraud, and I'm not putting my name to it,' he said.

Yesterday's breakthrough came after days of gruelling negotiations in Brussels, in which both sides made further concessions.

Downing Street was tight-lipped about the contents of the withdrawal agreement, which runs to more than 400 pages of legal text.

An accompanying document on the 'future framework' is said to be as short as five pages, and is set to be the subject of intense negotiations.

But sources said Brussels had backed down over the controversial 'backstop' plan which is designed to prevent a return to a hard border in Northern Ireland if trade talks falter.

The EU had demanded a scheme that would have kept Northern Ireland in the customs union after the rest of the UK left. Brussels has now accepted a proposal that could keep the whole UK in a temporary backstop until trade terms are finalised.

A Government source said: 'The idea of a Northern Ireland-only customs backstop has been dropped. There is no backstop to the backstop.' 

Last week, seven Cabinet ministers, including Mr Raab warned Mrs May that the UK must have a 'unilateral' exit clause from the arrangement. 

Sajid Javid yesterday became the latest minister to warn the deal would not get through Parliament without this.

But the proposal was rejected by Brussels and is thought to have been replaced by a complex joint mechanism, which will raise Eurosceptic fears that Britain could be 'trapped' in a customs union against its will.

Sources said the deal allows for an independent panel to decide when the UK can leave a backstop arrangement. 

It will review progress on a transition deal in July 2019 and decide if the UK is ready to switch to a free trade deal, transfer to the backstop or extend the transition period until 2021, reported the Guardian.

The EU demanded a 'level playing field' guarantee, which could see the UK made to follow Brussels rules during any backstop period.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the European Court of Justice would have a role in deciding when the backstop arrangement would end, something that would infuriate Eurosceptics.

The newspaper also said that the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, told the Cabinet the backstop arrangement would leave Northern Ireland under a 'different regulatory regime subject to EU law and institutions.' 

Earlier this week, Miss Mordaunt suggested the Cabinet was ready to act as a check on Mrs May's Brexit compromises.


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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