A dozen former Conservative ministers including Boris Johnson, David Davis and Dominic Raab today urge Tory MPs to vote down Theresa May’s deal and leave the European Union on World Trade Organisation terms.
The group – including eight former Cabinet colleagues of Theresa May – urges the Prime Minister to have one last go at persuading the EU to drop the Irish backstop which threatens to keep the UK in the customs union indefinitely.
The news came as Tory MPs will today [Monday] raise concerns about a secretive committee run by unelected officials with the power to write new laws affecting Britons for years after Brexit as a result of Mrs May’s deal.
A group of farmers who export hundreds of millions-pounds of agricultural produce to and from the EU warn in a letter to today’s Telegraph that Mrs May’s deal could leave the UK “in limbo for many many years with damaging uncertainty”.
Separately Stuart Wheeler, the millionaire spread betting millionaire, warned that if Tory rebels prevented Brexit “they will have gone a very long way towards putting Mr Corbyn into Downing St, perhaps within weeks, not to mention losing their own seats”.
In the joint letter to every Conservative MP, seen by The Daily Telegraph and published in full below, the former Conservative ministers – including Esther McVey and Priti Patel – say that the UK has to be ready to leave without a deal on World Trade Organisation terms.
They say: “We must have the confidence to be ready to leave on WTO terms.
“A managed WTO Brexit may give rise to some short-term inconvenience and disruption, but the much greater risks arise from being locked into a very bad deal.
“A managed WTO Brexit will end business and political uncertainty more quickly than any other option.
“It also saves much of the £39 billion, which can be spent to support the UK economy, business, and consumers instead.”
They add: “It is right to vote down this bad deal and that in doing so we will unlock a better future for our party, our country and its people.
“It will not lead to no Brexit or to an early General Election. Indeed, it would be by agreeing to this punative and highly one-sided deal that we would do most damage to the Conservative Party’s prospects at the next election.”
Senior backbench Tories will today set out concerns about the scale of powers handed to a joint committee which will settle disputes between the UK and EU after March 29 as part of the Withdrawal Agreement.
The committee can be chaired by two unelected civil servants, who can meet or even correspond in secret to make “binding decisions” on the UK and EU, the agreement says.
Civil servants can be appointed to the committee, meetings will be considered to be “confidential” and any minutes or the agenda can be kept secret, it states.
Buried away in an annex at the back of the 585-page treaty, it explains that meetings can happen as little as once a year while legally binding decisions can be taken simply by an “exchange of notes” between the two co-chairmen.
The agreement states the committee’s decisions “shall be binding on the Union and the United Kingdom, and the Union and the United Kingdom shall implement those decisions. They shall have the same legal effect as this Agreement.”
Martin Howe QC, a leading expert in EU law, told The Daily Telegraph: “The Withdrawal Agreement contains a presumption of secrecy regarding the proceedings of the Joint Committee.
“Unless Parliament were to legislate to constrict or control the activities of the UK representative on the Joint Committee, a civil servant could wield very substantial legislative powers without oversight from Parliament. This is a matter of great concern.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, said: “This is the vassalage in black and white. It delegates extraordinary powers that could over-ride Parliament, over-ride all scrutiny to unelected civil servants.”
Mark Francois, vice chairman of the ERG, said: “Under this agreement Martin Selmayr, the general secretary of the Commission, and Olly Robbins, Mrs May’s chief EU negotiator, could potentially exchange two letters which would over-ride Parliament and compel them under Article 166 to change the law.”
A Government spokesman said: “The Joint Committee will be responsible for the implementation and application of the Withdrawal Agreement.
“Joint Committees are a common feature of international trade deals, and a helpful forum for discussion between parties.
“It will have the ability to discuss any issues that might arise concerning the management and operation of the agreement, and will be able to take any decision the agreement empowers it to.
However, the Joint Committee cannot change domestic law, only Parliament can do that.
“The Joint Committee will be co-chaired by high level representatives from the UK and the EU and will make decisions by consensus.
“It will meet as often as is needed and at least once a year; either party will be able to convene it if they feel it is necessary.”
Letter to every Conservative MP, 14 January 2019.
On 15 January, the House will vote on the Prime Minister’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration.
This will be a historic decision which will affect future generations. We urge colleagues to look beyond the day-to-day news cycle, to consider the long-run future of our country, and to vote against this agreement.