Jacqueline Foster, deputy leader of Conservative MEPs in the European Parliament, has welcomed the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by UK Prime Minister Theresa May and has urged the UK Parliament to back it.
"The deal delivers on the referendum and will ensure our exit from the EU is orderly. I have spent almost 20 years in Brussels standing up for Britain's interests and I am confident this is the best deal for the UK," Foster said.
"It's time to ratify this agreement to give businesses and citizens the certainty they need, so we can begin formal trade talks with the EU and our partners across the globe," she added.
The plea comes as May kicked off a two-week campaign promoting her Brexit deal around the UK, starting with a visit to Wales and Northern Ireland. The campaign is taking place in the run-up to a UK parliamentary vote on the deal, which will take place on Tuesday 11 December.
In a statement to British policymakers on Monday, May said, “There is a choice which MPs will have to make. We can back this deal, deliver on the vote of the referendum and move on to building a brighter future of opportunity and prosperity for all our people. Or this House can choose to reject this deal and go back to square one.”
“No one knows what will happen if this deal doesn’t pass. It would open the door to more division and more uncertainty, with all the risks that will entail,” she added.
Responding to criticism of the so-called Irish border backstop proposal in the Withdrawal Agreement, May said, “There is no deal that comes without a backstop, and without a backstop there is no deal.”
"The deal delivers on the referendum and will ensure our exit from the EU is orderly. I have spent almost 20 years in Brussels standing up for Britain's interests and I am confident this is the best deal for the UK" Jacqueline Foster, deputy leader of Conservative MEPs in the European Parliament
“I am going to be going out and around the country. I am going to be talking to people. I am going to be explaining why I think this deal is the right deal for the UK.”
BLASÉ IN BRUSSELS
Back in Brussels, however, other MEPs have received the draft Brexit deal with decidedly more lukewarm responses.
Irish MEP Martina Anderson addressed what has proved to be by far the biggest single obstacle - the Irish border issue.
She told this website, “The backstop in the draft Withdrawal Agreement is the least worst option. However, let me be clear, there is no such thing as a good Brexit deal. It is welcome that this draft Withdrawal Agreement will help prevent physical infrastructure on the border in Ireland, and provide some protections for local businesses and livelihoods. But this deal is a million miles from where it needs to be in terms of rights."
“Cows, microwaves and other white goods will be protected more than people are. This backstop will create a massive democratic deficit in the north of Ireland as the first right to go will be our right to democratic representation in the European Parliament."
“Cows, microwaves and other white goods will be protected more than people are [with the backstop]" Martina Anderson MEP
“The Irish government could fix this at a stroke of a pen- an Taoiseach [Irish Prime Minister] promised that the people of the north would never again be left behind. It is time to deliver on that promise,” she added.
A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
British Conservative MEP Charles Tannock said that May is struggling to put together a majority in the Commons to support her deal, having generated opposition within her own Conservative party from both hard-line Brexiteers from the ERG group as well as the pro-EU Remain conservative MPs for very different reasons.
“On the pro-European side of the Commons, their main objection is that this is still a hard Brexit after paying upfront a £39bn financial settlement to the EU, with no guarantees of long-term frictionless trade, or for that matter any guarantees in areas ranging from security, cooperation, to environmental protection, and that the government could have been more flexible, but instead has insisted on rigid red lines which in the long term mean the UK out of the single market, customs union, ECJ jurisdiction, or significantly contributing to the EU budget meaning a divergence away from a close relationship with the European Union," Tannock said.
“The ERG and its close allies like former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson claim the agreement will lock the UK into a 'vassal state' status of being a rule-taker but not a rule-shaper for years ahead as it is clear that when the transition ends in 2020 or possibly as late as 2022, unless a technological solution is found to the Irish border question this will require the UK in a customs union with the EU preventing an independent trade policy with the UK having its own free trade agreements with third countries.”
Tannock, a staunch Remainer, added, “The best that can be said about Mrs May's deal is that following the rejection of her Chequers plan this is the least worst option which ticks all her rigid red-line boxes. Everyone now is focussed on the 11th of December and the entire government machinery is aiming to persuade MPs, including the DUP, who have objected to the backstop for Northern Ireland, to rally behind the government on the basis that if it is defeated there could be a no-deal Brexit."
“The best that can be said about Mrs May's deal is that following the rejection of her Chequers plan this is the least worst option which ticks all her rigid red-line boxes" Charles Tannock MEP
"I personally am hoping for a People's Vote Referendum to give an informed final-say consent with a Reform and Remain outcome, as clearly our current arrangements as a full [EU] member is the best relationship on offer,” he added.
Also commenting on the deal, former Labour MP Roger Casale, founder of citizens’ campaign group New Europeans, said, "The Brexit deal does not fully guarantee the current rights and status of the 5 million EU citizens in the UK and Britons in Europe and this is causing further distress and anxiety. That is why the EU should confirm that it will ring fence the rights and status of the 5 million if the deal falls apart through the introduction of an EU Green card scheme as proposed by New Europeans. The best protection of all would be to stop Brexit."
Meanwhile, Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, commenting on the UK in a Changing Europe report “The economic consequences of the Brexit deal”, said: “This analysis confirms what everyone knows: that this deal will be bad for growth, incomes and the public finances."
"If the Prime Minister is unwilling or unable to deliver a Brexit deal that works for the whole country, she should stand aside, call a General Election and let Labour deliver a deal that protects jobs and delivers for the whole country.”
Press reports are now circulating that several UK Cabinet ministers are considering a softer approach to Brexit in the event that May’s deal does not pass through Parliament. According to the reports, four Cabinet ministers recently had meetings to discuss the possibility of giving their support to a ‘Norway Plus’ deal, where the UK would be kept in the single market and a customs union with the EU.