ERG will continue to vote down withdrawal agreement, Mark Francois warns
Prime minister Boris Johnson has been told by the European Research Group of Conservative MPs that around sixty backbench Conservative Brexiteers will vote down a withdrawal agreement even if the Irish backstop is removed.
The warning follows Johnson’s suggestion that a two-year transitional period may come into force after Brexit.
The prime minister said on Tuesday: “Some of the changes and adjustments necessary in the run-up to October 31, and a lot of which we have already done, will be crucial anyway if we are going to come out of the customs union, come out of the single market, as we must in the next couple of years”.
This statement implies that the UK could remain in the customs union and single market for two years as part of a transitional period which has aroused concern among Brexiteers.
Now, the vice chairman of the ERG, Mark Francois, has suggested there would be a “running Parliamentary war” if Johnson were to attempt to force Theresa May’s previously negotiated deal through Parliament minus the backstop.
Speaking to Chopper’s Brexit Podcast, Francois said: “Even if you took the backstop element out of the bill you are still talking about a very substantial bill.
“You’d have to spend weeks in Parliament…and you’d have weeks and weeks of people tabling wrecking amendments.
“You’d have a running Parliamentary war probably for at least a month and I don’t think that any sensible government would want that in the run up to October 31, so in practical terms I don’t think it’s a good idea”.
The new prime minister has already made clear to the EU that he wants the Irish backstop removed from May’s withdrawal agreement.
Johnson feels that removing the backstop will be enough for the deal to win approval from a majority of MPs. However, Francois was clear that backbench Conservative members of the ERG, equating to around sixty individuals, would vote down the deal.
The ERG vice chair also brought to attention that Johnson had met with the group before the first round of the Conservative leadership election and was “very clear” that the existing withdrawal agreement “was dead”.
Francois added: “He was absolutely emphatic about it, so we took him at his word.
“I don’t think you could revive the withdrawal agreement realistically. Even if you took the backstop out, there are too many other things that are wrong with it”.