Up to 20 Labour MPs may be prepared to defy Jeremy Corbyn and support any revised Brexit deal that Boris Johnson is able to strike with the European Union, senior party figures believe.
David Frost, the prime minister’s chief negotiator, returned to Brussels yesterday for talks with officials amid signs that the Democratic Unionist Party is shifting its position on post-Brexit provisions for Northern Ireland.
The party has already signalled that it would not object to the idea of an all-Ireland backstop for food and agriculture, based on alignment to EU law, as long as Northern Ireland retained a say in the development of new regulations.
Sources have also indicated that there could be movement on allowing single market regulatory checks on goods being carried by boats in the Irish Sea — within the context of getting the Northern Ireland assembly up and running. They said that as long as the arrangements were carried out with the “consent” of the Northern Ireland parties there was precedence for the province diverging from the rest of the United Kingdom.
However, they insisted that any revised deal could not see Northern Ireland remain in a customs union with the EU while the rest of the UK left.
“The red line is there cannot be any tariff barriers between Northern Ireland and Britain,” they said.
This would require the EU to accept some form of “alternative arrangements” to ensure there was not a need for physical infrastructure at the border. This is likely to prove a significant stumbling block in the negotiations. The prospect of such a deal being negotiated in Brussels and the DUP signing up is still a very long way off.
Yesterday Mr Johnson said that he would “not accept a Northern Ireland only backstop”. But a compromise potentially unlocks a way for a revised withdrawal agreement to pass the House of Commons.
The final time Theresa May put her deal to the House all but about 30 Brexiteers signed up to it, including two MPs who are now in the cabinet.
DUP backing for a deal would minimise any so-called “Spartan” rebellion of Tory Brexiteers.
“It is not up to us to be more Unionist than the DUP,” said one, while warning there were other significant areas of the present withdrawal agreement that they objected to.
One senior Labour source said that about 20 of their MPs would vote for a revised Johnson deal even if the Labour leadership opposed it. “It is hard to calculate because you don’t know what the deal will be,” they said. “But if it is not that different from the current withdrawal agreement and the government had a realistic prospect of getting enough support on their own side I think you could see up to 20 of our lot backing it.”
Another added: “The critical test would be the extent of the Tory Brexiteer rebellion. No Labour MP is going to vote for a Johnson deal that looks like it’s going to fail.”
Seventeen Labour MPs signed a letter last month calling for a fresh vote on a version of Mrs May’s deal.
In a speech to be given today Amber Rudd, the former work and pensions secretary, urges Labour MPs to back any deal that Mr Johnson negotiates.
“Politicians have a responsibility to acknowledge the crisis we are in and to find solutions,” she says. “To use guile, persuasion, intelligence to find the compromise to reconcile the conflicting duties of the referendum and their responsibilities.”
She also warns against making the choice a binary one between revoking Article 50 to remain or leaving with no deal. She says: “Choosing either of those paths would wholly alienate those on the other side of the argument. I continue to believe that compromise is the right approach.”
In Berlin, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, told MPs in the Bundestag that negotiations would continue “to the last day”, adding: “We still have every chance of an orderly withdrawal.”
a history lesson for year-four pupils at Pimlico Primary in central London yesterday — or maybe he just wanted to be excused