Brexit: Senior Tory suggests vote could be delayed

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Media captionNewsnight: Sir Graham Brady ‘would welcome’ Brexit vote being deferred

A senior Tory MP says he would welcome a delay in next week’s Commons Brexit vote, if it would help address concerns over the controversial “backstop”.

But Tory backbench chairman Sir Graham Brady said getting “clarity” on the issue was more important than “timing”.

It comes after reports that Theresa May was being urged to postpone the vote, which she is widely expected to lose.

Dismissing those reports, a No 10 spokesman said: “The vote will take place on Tuesday as planned.”

The withdrawal deal negotiated between the UK and EU has been endorsed by EU leaders but must also be backed by the UK Parliament if it is to come into force.

MPs will decide whether to accept it next Tuesday, 11 December but dozens of Tory MPs are expected to reject it as are the DUP MPs, whose support keeps Mrs May’s government in power.

Many MPs have expressed concerns about the “backstop” mechanism, which is designed to stop the return of a physical border on the island of Ireland.

It would mean Northern Ireland staying aligned to some EU rules, which many MPs say is unacceptable. The UK would also not be able to leave the backstop without EU agreement.

On Thursday, Mrs May suggested MPs could be “given a role” in deciding whether to activate the backstop – but told the BBC there could be no deal with the EU without it.

But the Telegraph reported that she was being urged to delay the vote by ministers.

Asked if the PM should delay the vote, Sir Graham, who chairs the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, told the BBC’s Newsnight: “I think the most important thing is to have clarity about how we might remove ourselves from a backstop, Northern Ireland protocol situation if we were to enter into one in the future.

“It’s having the answer to that question of substance that is most important, not the timing.

“So if that question can be answered in the course of the next few days, then all well and good.

“If it can’t then I certainly would welcome the vote being deferred until such time as we can answer that question.”

On Thursday, the Labour former prime minister Tony Blair, speaking at a journalists’ lunch in Parliament, said the prime minister was facing the prospect of “hitting a brick wall at speed” on Tuesday.

Asked if she should pull the 11 December vote, Mr Blair said: “Personally, I don’t see what the point is in going down to a huge defeat.”

The government is considering an amendment to next Tuesday’s vote motion that would give Parliament more say over the backstop.

One possible option would see Parliament having a role in deciding whether to extend the transition period or enter the backstop arrangement, if no trade deal has been reached by the end of December 2020.

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