Sky Views: A deal is on the table. Are Brexiteers playing with fire? | Politics News

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By Beth Rigby, deputy political editor

Michael Gove evoked the spirit of French philosopher Voltaire when he pleaded with fellow Brexiteers to back Theresa May’s Brexit divorce deal late last year. “I’m a realist and one of the things about politics is you mustn’t, you shouldn’t, make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

Like many of his Vote Leave colleagues, the environment secretary doesn’t much like Mrs May’s Brexit deal.

He – like other Brexiteer cabinet colleagues – considered resigning over it. But in the end, he has backed an imperfect deal because it at least delivers Brexit. That is good enough for Mr Gove.

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Michael Gove eventually backed an imperfect deal because it delivers Brexit, Beth Rigby writes

His is a realism that is not widely shared by eurosceptic colleagues in the backbench European Research Group.

They have repeatedly told Mrs May that they will not support her deal – and to prove it 118 voted against it in January as the prime minister suffered a record-breaking parliamentary defeat at the hands of her own party.

Next week she will ask them again to vote for her deal: but her ministers are sceptical with some already muttering about when to hold meaningful vote number three.

It all hinges on what the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox can squeeze out of the EU on the vexed issue of the Irish backstop.

Designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland should the UK and EU fail to agree a free trade deal by the end of 2020, the backstop has become the stumbling block to Mrs May’s deal. And with good reason.

Parliamentarians are not prepared to accept a no-deal exit from the EU, whatever a core of Brexiteer backbenchers may want.

Beth Rigby

Brexiteers see the arrangement as a Trojan horse to keep the UK locked in customs union with the EU for evermore. Perhaps it will. But the alternative is far worse.

Because the most likely alternative will be a delay to Brexit or – the Brexiteers’ nightmare – a cancelling of Brexit full stop.

Parliamentarians are not prepared to accept a no-deal exit from the EU, whatever a core of Brexiteer backbenchers may want. That is why the prime minister has offered a vote on of a short technical extension until the end of June.

And MPs do still have the tools to force the prime minister into requesting a longer extension.

The Cooper-Letwin amendment, which would have given MPs the powers to block no deal, is laying dormant rather than killed off by Mrs May’s capitulation. It can be revived.

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MPs do still have the tools to force the prime minister into requesting a longer extension

And it is likely to be looked favourably on in Brussels. Senior EU officials and President Emmanuel Macron are said to back a delay of up to two years if the stalemate sticks in parliament.

A lengthy delay at least that could even run into a vote in parliament for a second referendum. Mrs May has ruled out a people’s vote time and again.

But she also insisted – dozens and dozens of times – Brexit would not be delayed past 29 March only to then admit last week that it might.

Of course it is far from nailed on that the fall of her deal will lead to a second referendum or to a lengthy delay to Brexit.

Parliament may not vote for an extension and, even if it does, it might not come to pass should the EU27 fail to agree it, or make the terms impossible (Spain take a tilt at Gibraltar, the French at our fishing waters).

But Brexiteers must ask themselves, is this a risk worth taking when a deal is on the table?

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It all hinges on what Attorney General Geoffrey Cox can bring back from Brussels on the backstop

The ERG are – to quote a minister – “genuinely withholding” judgement to see what Mr Cox can bring back from Brussels on the backstop, but there are some signs of a softening.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, head of the European Research Group, has pivoted in the past week from insisting the backstop should be scrapped to being open to prospect of other legal fixes to ensure it does not become permanent.

A glimmer of hope then for the whips and Number 10 as they face the almost insurmountable task of getting this vote through.

But Mr Cox – having scaled back his ambition to get a one-year time limit to the backstop and a unilateral exit – must deliver some legal guarantee that Britain will not be tied into a backstop against its will by next week.

To get her deal passed, the prime minister will need 116 MPs to switch sides. It is an undoubtedly a gargantuan task but there is a narrow pathway to victory.

To get her deal passed, the prime minister will need 116 MPs to switch sides. It is an undoubtedly a gargantuan task but there is a narrow pathway to victory.

Beth Rigby

It starts with getting the DUP on board. This in turn could unlock at least half of the 110-strong ERG. Add in a sprinkling of independent MPs and a big chunk (40-plus) of Labour MPs in Leave constituencies and Mrs May’s deal crawls across the finishing line.

“It’s the only game in town,” says a senior government Brexiteer who, like Mr Gove, nearly quit government over Mrs May’s deal but has come to the conclusion that this deal is the best it’s going to get when faced with a Remain parliament and a Labour Party moving towards a second referendum.

Brexiteers may loathe it, but they at least get a version of Brexit if they vote for this deal. From the Maastricht rebellions of the 1990s to forcing David Cameron into calling an EU referendum, this is a moment that has been decades in the making.

Brexiteers really should seize their victory rather than risk it all on the altar of perfection.

Sky Views is a series of comment pieces by Sky News editors and correspondents, published every morning.

Previously on Sky Views: Hannah Thomas-Peter – New York takes on Trump as his home town turns against him



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