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'Extremely concerning': Downing Street warns MPs over attempts to block Brexit

Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said today that Simon Coveney did not rule out a backstop exit mechanism.

Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Updated Jan 20th 2019, 2:30 PM

ATTEMPTS BY MPs to remove the British government’s control over the Brexit process have been described as “extremely concerning” by a Downing Street spokesperson. 

Several backbench MPs plan to table amendments in an attempt to take control of the business of Parliament in order to frustrate British Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The move comes after May’s Brexit deal was defeated in the House of Commons earlier this week

Two groups of MPs are planning to table amendments next week which would further frustrate the Brexit process, the Sunday Times has reported. 

One group – including Labour’s Yvette Cooper and former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan – is attempting to block a no-deal Brexit while another group – led by former attorney general Dominic Grieve – aims to suspend the UK’s withdrawal process altogether. 

A Downing Street spokesperson, however, has said that “any attempt to remove the government’s power to meet the legal conditions of an orderly exit at this moment of historic significance is extremely concerning.”

“This news should serve as a reminder to those MPs who want to deliver Brexit that they need to vote for it – otherwise there is a danger that parliament could stop Brexit.”

Article 50 – the legal means by which the UK can leave the EU – was invoked by MPs in March 2017. The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March this year. 

Speaking to Sky News this morning, Tory MP Morgan defended the move saying that “many people…are desperate for their politicians in government to talk about other issues” than Brexit. 

Brexit Nicky Morgan MP Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Asked if attempts to wrestle control from the government amounted to a coup by MPs, Morgan described the various attempts to take control over the Brexit process as “unprecedented”.

Following her defeat in the House of Commons, Prime Minister May must return to the House of Commons tomorrow and present her plans to MPs on what to do next. 

Among her options are: further negotiations with the EU, which European Council president Donald Tusk and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier have said previously cannot happen; requesting an extension to Article 50; call a second referendum, where it isn’t certain that the outcome would be different, or push for a no-deal Brexit, which would most likely lead to a border on the island of Ireland.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that he is to meet opposition party leaders next week to brief them on contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit. 

Meanwhile, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has warned of a “political tsunami” if MPs fail to deliver on the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.

Writing in today’s Sunday Telegraph, Fox slammed people calling for May to rule out a no-deal Brexit saying the “most stupid thing possible” in a negotiation is to “give away your strongest card”. 

“Failure to deliver Brexit would produce a yawning gap between parliament and the people, a schism in our political system with unknowable consequences,” said Fox, a senior pro-Brexit cabinet minister.

“It is time for MPs to deliver on the promises they made. It is a matter of honour and a matter of duty.”

Earlier today, former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab MP told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney had not ruled out a backstop exit mechanism when they met. 

Raab said that Coveney’s view differed with that of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar whom Raab described as “less moderate” than Coveney. 

Coveney dismissed Raab’s claims today, however, saying that himself and Varadkar “have always been on the same page on Brexit”. 

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha.

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