Jacob Rees-Mogg has sought to soften up Tory Eurosceptic MPs by urging them to accept that “compromise will inevitably be needed” in the run-up to a historic European Council summit on Thursday.
Mr Rees-Mogg, a leading anti-EU figure, is among the senior ministers trying to sell a potential compromise deal to hardline Brexiters.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the leader of the House of Commons insisted that Boris Johnson could be trusted because of his role in the 2016 Vote Leave campaign. “As a Leaver Boris can be trusted. He wants to take back control and has dedicated his political career to this noble cause,” he wrote.
The UK government is braced for a political backlash from Eurosceptics when the final details of the new plan are made public: cabinet ministers are set to receive a briefing later on Sunday.
On Saturday Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist party, voiced doubts about the idea of a “double customs” plan for Northern Ireland in the first sign of resistance to Mr Johnson’s new Brexit proposals.
Northern Ireland must remain fully part of the UK customs union. And Boris Johnson knows it very well
Mr Johnson, the UK’s Brexiter prime minister, has put forward the idea that Northern Ireland could remain legally part of the UK customs area while in practice it would be part of the EU’s customs territory.
But Mr Dodds, speaking to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, hinted that the DUP would not find any such solution acceptable: “Northern Ireland must remain fully part of the UK customs union. And Boris Johnson knows it very well,” he said. “It cannot work because Northern Ireland has to remain fully part of the UK customs union.”
Mr Rees-Mogg told Sky News on Sunday that the government would wait to see the DUP’s reaction once Britain’s actual proposals are published. “Northern Ireland will remain within the UK customs union, we have been explicit about this,” he said.
The current proposal is not dissimilar to the previous idea of a “customs partnership” that was criticised by Mr Rees-Mogg at the time as “cretinous” and “a betrayal of good sense”.
On Sunday Mr Rees-Mogg conceded he could have to “eat my own words”, quoting the Winston Churchill aphorism that eating one’s own words could be a “nourishing diet”.
Mr Rees-Mogg also dismissed comments from Dominic Grieve, former Tory attorney-general, who said the government would need to delay Brexit — even if it gets a new deal through the House of Commons — to give parliament sufficient time to scrutinise the withdrawal agreement bill. “The prime minister is absolutely clear that we are leaving on the 31st of October . . . he is not going to Europe to ask for an extension,” Mr Rees-Mogg said.
Mr Johnson will speak to senior European figures within the next 24 hours to try to drum up support for his deal: European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron. He will repeat his threat to take the UK out of the EU without a deal if no-deal is possible — despite the fact that parliament has already voted to force a delay to Brexit in those circumstances.
Brussels is this weekend holding last-ditch talks with Mr Johnson’s team aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit after a breakthrough in talks between the two sides sparked hopes of an agreement.
Mr Johnson’s team are drawing up plans to fudge the most controversial issue dogging the talks: whether Northern Ireland should be part of the EU customs union to avoid the need for a hard border with the Republic.
Officials close to the negotiations say Mr Johnson would keep Northern Ireland in the UK customs territory in legal terms, meaning it would benefit from any free trade deals struck with third countries, but in practical terms it would be part of the EU customs area.
Britain’s five main business groups have meanwhile written to EU and UK leaders urging them to avoid an “unnecessary, damaging no-deal exit” that would only mean an “extension of uncertainty” and prolong the pain of recent years.
In a letter to Mr Johnson, European Council president Donald Tusk and Mr Juncker — seen by the Financial Times — the business groups urged a “negotiated settlement” even if that could take longer than expected.
“We ask you both to continue the positive tone of discussions,” said the BCC, CBI, FSB, IoD and Make UK. “No-deal does not deliver a clean break. It does not end the uncertainty that stifles business investment and expansion. It does not mean an end to negotiations but instead new, more difficult negotiations.”
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