Former Conservative MP and chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond has warned MPs not to be tricked into voting for a “heavily camouflaged” no-deal Brexit.
“I haven’t come this far seeking to avoid no deal in 2019 to be duped into voting for a heavily camouflaged no-deal at the end of 2020,” he cautioned.
Reports emerge that the hard Brexit-supporting ERG faction of the Tory Party who initially suggested they would not support a deal that the DUP distrust as it threatens the union of the United Kingdom have been persuaded to cote for it as it may pave the way to no-deal.
Hard line Brexiteer and ERG member John Baron revealed that he and other “Spartans” had been given the assurance by Dominic Raab and Michael Gove that voting for Johnson’s deal makes leaving the EU with no deal a real possibility in 2020.
To win over hardline Brexiteers to vote for a deal that the DUP reject as it threatens the union of Great Britain and Northern and the Good Friday peace agreement, he revealed that Johnson’s camp was insisting that the UK would leave the EU with no deal if necessary next year.
Johnson’s deal leaves the UK and EU only until December 2020 to negotiate the actual deal on replacing the current relationship with the EU, otherwise the UK crashes out with no deal. Bearing in mind how long it is taking to negotiate just the Withdrawal Deal, one year is clearly no way near long enough to negotiate the future relationship of the UK and the EU.
There are provisions to ask for an extension, but that wold have to be done by July and there are no guarantees that Johnson would be minded to ask for one so soon.
‘We could leave on no-deal terms’
A BBC interview with MP John Baron was very revealing.
The MP for Basildon and Billericay explained why he would vote for the deal which seemingly is less attractive than Theresa May’s deal that he refused to back:
“Theresa May’s backstop could have had us locked into that arrangement indefinitely. Boris Johnson has torn up that backstop, which means that if the trade talks are not successful, after we hopefully agree the deal tomorrow here, if those trade talks are not successful, up to December 2020 – that’s how long they could take, then we could leave on no-deal terms.”
Asked if Boris Johnson’s deal “is effectively no-deal Brexit but just delayed by year”, the ERG member replied: “I think most of us in Parliament prefer a good deal to no deal, but many of us also accept the reality of life if you’re like when negotiating that you’ve got to leave no-deal on the table.
“That helps to make for a better deal when talking about a trade deal up to December 2020, and because that possibility exists after December 2020, I think it will focus minds within the negotiations and we’ll get a good trade deal. That is our hope.”
‘John Baron has let the cat out of the bag’
Guto Bebb, a former Conservative expelled from the party for blocking a no-deal Brexit, said: “John Baron has let the cat out of the bag.
“He admits that he and many of his fellow ideologues in the extremist Conservative faction of the ERG are supporting Boris Johnson’s Brexit proposals only because they see it as the fastest way to fulfil their no-deal fantasies.”
Philip Hammond wrote in the Times: “My former colleague, John Baron MP, gave the game away this morning: they are being told that, once we are out, the UK will make a take-it-or-leave-it proposal for a minimum-ambition, “Canada-minus” trade deal on the UK’s terms and when the EU rejects it, the UK will leave without a trade deal at the end of 2020.
“I haven’t come this far seeking to avoid no deal in 2019 to be duped into voting for a heavily camouflaged no-deal at the end of 2020.”
Fellow ERG member Andrew Bridgen expressed similar sentiments, saying: “I think the vast majority of the ERG will come to the conclusion that this deal is tolerable. What we don’t want is a second referendum.”
Hardline ERG members have, reportedly been persuaded to support Johnson’s deal after reading the column of Brexit supporting barrister, Martin Howe QC.
“Unlike the May deal, the UK will have the real option of walking away if the terms are not good enough,” he wrote, suggesting the deal makes leaving the EU with no deal a real possibility.
Will Boris Johnson get the votes of 318 MPs he needs for his deal?
Johnson’s deal will stand or fall on knife edge with hard line Brexiteer Conservatives appearing to be more prepared to ignore the word Unionist in the Conservative and Unionist Party than the Democratic Unionist Party are able to as it will weaken the union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Without DUP votes, it remains to be seen how many Labour MPs are prepared to risk being thrown out of their parties to vote for a deal that may pave the way to no-deal, and crashing out of the EU on WTO terms with the recession that would entail.
Boris Johnson has stripped away assurances in Theresa May’s deal on workers’ rights, so they would have to believe the word of the PM who lied to the Queen that he would protect workers’ rights despite removing therefrom the Withdrawal Deal.
A total of 635 votes will be in play when the deal is debated. This means the Government will need at least 318 votes to be certain of a majority.
The 635 votes in play are the 650 MPs in the House of Commons minus seven Sinn Fein MPs (who do not take their seats), the Speaker and three deputy speakers (who do not vote), and the four vote tellers – two Conservative MPs in favour, two Labour MPs against – whose votes are not included in the overall result.
Here are four scenarios for how the vote could unfold.
– Scenario one
If every Conservative MP who is able to vote also backs the deal, this gives the Government 285 votes – 33 votes short of a majority.
This shortfall could be met through a combination of votes from Labour and Independent MPs.
For example, if 12 Labour MPs decided to back the deal along with 23 Independents, this would be enough to see Boris Johnson over the line.
There were five Labour MPs who voted on March 29 for Theresa May’s version of the Withdrawal Agreement: Kevin Barron, Rosie Cooper, Jim Fitzpatrick, Caroline Flint and John Mann.
It is not clear how all of them intend to vote on Boris Johnson’s deal, though John Mann has said he will back it.
A small handful of other Labour MPs have indicated they might consider backing Mr Johnson’s deal, such as Ronnie Campbell and Graham Stringer, though again the precise number is uncertain.
Among the Independents, two former Labour MPs backed Mrs May’s deal – Ian Austin and Frank Field – along with the former Lib Dem MP Stephen Lloyd and the Independent MP Sylvia Hermon.
Other Independents likely to back Boris Johnson’s deal are the former Tory MPs Charlie Elphicke and Nick Boles.
Then there is the group of former Tory MPs who sit on the Government benches as Independents.
There are 21 of them in total – 20 who lost the Tory whip when voting for the Benn Act (to rule out no-deal), plus Amber Rudd, who left the party in protest at Boris Johnson’s Brexit policy.
If most of these Independents back Mr Johnson’s deal, then together with other Independents and a few Labour MPs, the Government might well reach the magic number of 318.
– Scenario two
Not every Conservative MP may decide to back the Government.
A handful of Tory MPs might follow the example of the DUP and vote against.
If 10 of them do so, this would reduce the number of Tories in favour to 275, leaving the Government 43 votes short of a majority.
But it could be the case that more Labour MPs than expected support Boris Johnson’s deal.
Were 20 Labour MPs to vote in favour, plus 23 Independents, then this – plus the 275 Tory MPs – would be enough to get the Government to 318.
– Scenario three
If Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn manages to keep the number of Labour MPs backing the Government to – at most – a dozen, and a handful of Conservatives vote against the deal, then Boris Johnson could be in trouble.
In this scenario, 275 Tories vote in favour, along with 23 Independents but only 12 Labour MPs. This would leave the Government with 310 votes, eight short of a majority.
– Scenario four
MPs might vote in favour of an amendment that requires the Government to ask for an extension if other Brexit-related legislation has not been passed before October 31.
This could mean that the deal is approved in principle on Saturday, but the UK would not leave the EU until the full Withdrawal Agreement – which implements the deal – is also passed.
The amendment has been submitted by Sir Oliver Letwin, one of the group of former Conservative MPs who lost the Tory whip when voting for the Benn Act.
It is supported by others in the group, including David Gauke, Philip Hammond and Dominic Grieve.
If this amendment becomes part of the Government motion on Saturday, then a simple yes/no vote on the overall motion could turn into a choice between “yes by October 31” and “yes but with more time”.
Assuming the Government backs “yes by October 31”, this could prompt many of those Independent MPs to back “yes but with more time” and leave the Government short of a majority.