Jacob Rees-Mogg admitted he might have to ‘eat his words’ to back Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal today – as he urged Tory hardliners to compromise.
The Leader of the Commons – who was a thorn in the side of Theresa May before joining Mr Johnson’s government – said there were ‘positive’ signs an agreement could be struck with the EU.
He was pressed on whether the blueprint being considered was similar to one floated by Mrs May, which he dismissed at the time as ‘cretinous’.
‘We’ll have to find out in a day or two whether I’ll have to eat my words or not – time will tell,’ he told Sky News.
‘There’s a line from Churchill saying that he often had to eat his words and he found it to be a very nourishing diet – and that is something that happens in politics.’
However, Mr Rees-Mogg said he was ready to ‘trust’ the PM on the package, pointing out that he had led the Leave campaign in the referendum.
The minister was deployed to reassure Tory Eurosceptics as a backlash from DUP threatened to derail his fledgling deal.
Mr Johnson today warned his Cabinet there is still ‘a significant amount of work to be done’ to thrash out a Brexit deal, saying the UK must be ready to leave at Halloween with no agreement
Jacob Rees-Mogg was pressed on whether the blueprint being considered was similar to one floated by Mrs May, which he dismissed at the time as ‘cretinous’
Updating his senior team on progress, Mr Johnson said the package being sketched out could ‘secure all our interests’, get rid of the hated Irish border backstop, and honour the Good Friday Agreement.
But the premier cautioned there was no guarantee of success, and the government had to keep preparing to leave by his ‘do or die’ October 31 deadline.
A moment of truth is looming within the next 48 hours, after negotiations were dramatically brought back from the dead.
What happens next in the Brexit crisis?
Here is how the coming weeks could pan out:
Today: Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are due to meet in France. The dinner will be a key waypointer to whether a deal will be possible next week.
Tomorrow: Parliament is due to return for the Queen’s Speech.
In Brussels, the EU will ‘take stock’ with Mr Barnier over whether the legal text meets their criteria and can be put before leaders for approval.
October 17-18: A crunch EU summit in Brussels. Any deal could be signed off by leaders here. If the talks have broken down, expect Boris Johnson to either boycott the event, or stage a dramatic walkout.
October 19: Parliament will sit on Saturday for the first time since the Falklands War.
If there is no Brexit deal by this date Remainer legislation obliges the PM to beg the EU for an extension to avoid No Deal. Mr Johnson is likely to force a vote to make MPs ‘own’ any delay, having said he would rather ‘die in a ditch’ than accept one.
If there is a deal in place, there will be a make-or-break vote on whether to back it. If passed by the Commons, the government will start rushing legislation through Parliament immediately.
Monday: Jeremy Corbyn has said that he will let Mr Johnson trigger an election after an extension has been secured.
This would probably be the first day when a motion can be brought to a vote under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, or a confidence vote can be held.
October 31: The current deadline for the UK to leave the EU, which Mr Johnson has previously described as ‘do or die’.
Thursday, November 28: An election looks inevitable whichever way the Brexit drama goes.
Legally there must be 25 working days between Parliament being dissolved and the election date.
This looks to be the most likely date for a poll, given they are traditionally held on Thursdays.
The sides are now in intensive negotiations on a new ‘best of both worlds’ blueprint thought to involve Northern Ireland technically staying in the UK’s customs union – but Britain collecting tariffs on the EU’s behalf.
It should become clear by Tuesday whether an agreement is possible – and it would be finalised at a crucial summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.
However, even if those hurdles are overcome it is unclear whether Mr Johnson will be able to hold together his fragile political coalition to get a package through the Commons in a special ‘Super Saturday’ sitting. The DUP fired a warning shot last night that a dual status arrangement ‘cannot work’ and Northern Ireland ‘must stay in a full UK customs union’.
Meanwhile, Remainer MPs are plotting an ambush to force a referendum whether there is a deal or not, in a bid to cancel Brexit altogether.
A Downing Street spokesman said this afternoon: ‘The Prime Minister updated Cabinet on the current progress being made in ongoing Brexit negotiations, reiterating that a pathway to a deal could be seen but that there is still a significant amount of work to get there and we must remain prepared to leave on October 31.
‘The Prime Minister said there was a way forward for a deal that could secure all our interests, respect the Good Friday Agreement, get rid of the backstop and get Brexit done by October 31 so we can push on with domestic agenda, investing in our NHS, tackling violent crime, and dealing with the cost of living.’
Earlier, a senior government source insisted the next couple of days would be critical.
‘He’ll be talking to Merkel, Macron and Juncker by the end of Monday to see if there’s agreement on a ‘landing zone’ for Northern Ireland and customs,’ they told the Sunday Times.
‘The message is: ‘Let’s finish this off.’ The alternative is to agree a friendly version of no deal and finish it that way.’
Deputy leader Nigel Dodds warned the mooted plan, which emerged following a breakthrough meeting between Mr Johnson and Irish premier Leo Varadkar last week – ‘cannot work’.
The scheme, intended to avoid the need for customs controls on the island of Ireland, would see Northern Ireland remain politically in a customs union with the EU but it would be administered by the UK.
However Mr Dodds told the Italian La Repubblica newspaper that Northern Ireland ‘must stay in a full UK customs union, full stop’.
‘It cannot work because Northern Ireland has to remain fully part of the UK customs union,’ he said.
He added: ‘There is a lot of stuff coming from Brussels, pushed by the Europeans in the last hours, but one thing is sure: Northern Ireland must remain fully part of the UK customs union. And Boris Johnson knows it very well.’
Boris Johnson (pictured visiting a school in Beaconsfield last week) is pleading with EU leaders to help him ‘finish off ‘ Brexit as a backlash from Tory hardliners and the DUP threatens to derail his fledgling deal
Emmanuel Macron (left) and Angela Merkel are meeting for dinner in France tonight in what could be a key moment for the Brexit talks
The PM’s Brexit ‘sherpa’ David Frost (pictured in Brussels last week) has been engaged in intensive negotiations with EU counterparts
British officials have so far remained tight-lipped over the nature of the new plan.
If speculation is correct, it would create a customs border in the Irish Sea with goods travelling from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland being subject to tariffs which Britain would collect on behalf of the EU.
Businesses would then be able to claim a rebate once they had shown the goods were for consumption in the UK market.
However it would mean that Northern Ireland would be able to benefit from any post-Brexit trade deals the UK struck with other countries around the world.
Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron are meeting for dinner in France tonight, in what could be a key waypointer to the prospects of success.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier is then due to brief EU ambassadors and MEPs tomorrow on progress in the talks.