Backlash against PM’s bid to woo Brexit rebels with £1billion ‘bribe’
4th March 2019

‘It really is bobbins compared to what the Tories have taken away’: Backlash against May’s bid to woo Brexit rebels with a £1billion ‘bribe’ for towns in pro-Leave areas as it is revealed it will be split over SIX YEARS

  • 70 Labour MPs opposed to second referendum and 35 may vote with Mrs May
  • PM is making a pitch to attract rebels with £1bn fund for ‘left-behind’ towns
  • She is also making a statement on workers’ rights to attract support from Labour
  • AG Geoffrey Cox ‘admits defeat’ in his plans to secure end date to Irish backstop
  • But minister said threat of Brexit being delayed is focusing Eurosceptic minds

Theresa May’s £1billion fund to regenerate towns in pro-Brexit areas was today blasted as ‘bobbins’ by Labour MPs she is accused of trying to ‘bribe’ to back her Brexit deal.

Up to 35 rebels are said to be queasy about the possibility of a second EU referendum as Mrs May tries to woo them ahead of next week’s make-or-break vote.

Mrs May has set out plans to funnel nearly £1billion to ‘left-behind’ towns – with most cash going to the North and Midlands – and will pledge to beef up workers’ rights as part of a package designed to persuade Labour MPs to back her Brexit deal.

But potential targets have said that their votes ‘can’t be bought’.

Speaking today Labour MP for Redcar, Anna Turley, whose region would receive an extra £105million over six years, said: ‘It really is bobbins compared to what we have had taken away from a whole raft of public services’.

Birmingham MP Jess Phillips said: ‘I tell you what she can keep her money, what I want is for her to spend just one day in my office, just one day with the public. I just want them to get it’.

Wigan’s Labour MP Lisa Nandy, who has said her vote is ‘not for sale’, tweeted today: ‘This Stronger Towns announcement just keeps getting worse. To put it in context in Wigan alone we’ve had cuts of £134million since 2010 with more in the pipeline’. 

Mrs May’s chances of winning the vote on March 12 look increasingly precarious today, especially after Attorney General Geoffrey Cox reportedly ‘admitted defeat’ on his plans to secure an end date to Irish backstop.

Mr Cox will return to Brussels with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay for more negotiations tomorrow. 

Theresa May, pictured speaking to two-year-old Scarlett Ward in Salisbury today, is fighting for votes to get her deal through and could get the backing of up to 35 Labour MPs keen to avoid a second referendum

Mrs May, pictured with local MP John Glen today, is offering a new £1bn fund to rejuvenate towns –  but critics have called it a bribe

The new £1billion fund favours the Midlands and the North where more people voted to leave the European Union

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Labour Leave-supporter John Mann says that a group of rebel MPs willing to vote with the PM in the Commons has increased from a handful of MPs to approaching 35.

Labour MP John Mann claims there are 70 colleagues who are opposed to a second referendum so may cross the floor

Mr Mann, who represents Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire, believes that 70 of his colleagues are opposed to holding another referendum – and ‘possibly half as many’ may back the Tory deal with Brussels. 

He told The Sun: ‘The choice facing us all is either to deliver Brexit as we promised or to vote for a second referendum. When the deal comes before Parliament again, the clear choice will be the deal or a second referendum’. 

Mrs May was accused of ‘bribery’ today after setting out plans to funnel nearly £1billion to ‘left-behind’ towns in the North and Midlands as part of a package of ‘bribes’ designed to persuade Labour MPs to back her Brexit deal. 

But Don Valley MP and former Labour minister Caroline Flint, who has urged Jeremy Corbyn to allow Labour MPs to have a free vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, was more receptive.

‘I have long argued that the voices and concerns of our smaller towns need to be heard’, she said.

‘Too many funding pots are hoovered up by cities or massive infrastructure projects.

‘The Stronger Towns Fund isn’t enough but it is a step forward.’ 

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is said to have admitted defeat on getting the EU to agree a firm end date to the Irish backstop

The Prime Minister will unveil details of the new £1billion Stronger Towns Fund as she launches intensive efforts to woo Labour MPs in pro-Brexit seats.

The proposals will see £1billion allocated directly to towns in England. Details of the towns involved were not available last night, but 90 per cent of the cash is being allocated to areas in the North and Midlands.

A further £600million will be made available for towns across the country to bid for. The decision over the £1.6billion fund follows weeks of talks between ministers and backbench Labour MPs unhappy at their party’s attempts to frustrate Brexit.

She will also use a speech on Wednesday to set out plans to improve workers’ rights in what is already being seen as another pitch to rebels.  

Today it was claimed the Attorney General admitted defeat in his attempts to secure a guaranteed exit from the Irish backstop. 

Geoffrey Cox is said to have abandoned plans to agree a firm end date or provide for a unilateral British withdrawal from the emergency arrangements. 

With the EU refusing to back down, Mr. Cox was now seeking an enhanced ‘arbitration mechanism’ instead, the Daily Telegraph reported. 

The plan would create an ‘independent’ arbitration panel outside the EU’s institutions but Brussels has so far rejected the plans, it is claimed.  

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said today: ‘We are now at a particularly critical stage in these negotiations and the Attorney General’s work is focused on securing legally binding changes to the backstop that can ensure that the EU cannot hold us in the backstop indefinitely.’

Asked how well the talks were going, he added: ‘We have definitely been making progress in our discussions with the EU over the past couple of weeks but there definitely remains more work to be done.

‘The Attorney General and the Brexit Secretary will in Brussels tomorrow continuing that work.’

Meanwhile Justice Minister Rory Stewart said hardline Eurosceptics are becoming ‘more pragmatic’ about Theresa May’s deal.

The threat that Brexit could be delayed, softened or even halted was focusing minds among Eurosceptic MPs, he said. 

‘I think there’s been a huge amount of movement,’ he told Sky News. 

Justice minister Rory Stewart said the threat that Brexit could be delayed, softened or even halted was focusing minds among Eurosceptic MPs 

‘I think people are becoming more pragmatic, they are recognising much more than they did in the past that there are a limited number of alternatives to this and that the alternatives are worse.’

A number of senior Eurosceptics have indicated they could back Mrs May’s deal, provided she is able to secure concessions on the controversial Irish backstop.

So what are their new red lines? 

  • Any concession on the Irish backstop must include a ‘clearly-worded, legally-binding’ clause which ‘unambiguously overrides’ the Withdrawal Agreement.
  • The new tests demand the language in any concession ‘must go beyond simply re-emphasising/ re-interpreting the temporary nature of the backstop’ and lead to a change in Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s advice that it could ‘endure indefinitely’.
  • Brexiteers also insist that the changes must demonstrate ‘a clear and unambiguous route out of the backstop if trade talks fail’.

Nigel Evans, secretary of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, said Eurosceptics and the DUP would not accept ‘some wishy washy sticking plaster’.

But, writing in the Daily Mail, he said: ‘I will be looking very carefully at what (Attorney General) Geoffrey Cox brings back. 

‘On my interpretation that it delivers what Theresa May said she was going to deliver, and on it having the backing of the DUP, I can see me edging towards pushing this deal over the line.’

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, warned that Remainer attempts to remove the possibility of No Deal had undermined Mrs May, but said Eurosceptic MPs could yet help reverse the defeat inflicted on her deal when it returns to the Commons. 

He said: ‘When the right compromise is offered, we should pull together behind the Prime Minister and help her to deliver our exit from the EU on March 29.’

Government sources are hoping that Mr Cox will achieve a breakthrough in Brussels by the end of this week that will allow him to change his legal advice that the backstop could ‘endure indefinitely’ ahead of an expected vote on March 12.

A source at the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs warned ministers not to try to ‘bounce’ them into backing any revised deal at the last minute, saying: ‘We want at least 48 hours’ notice. That is not an unreasonable amount of time and anything less would be treating Parliament with contempt.’

The ERG has set up a panel of Eurosceptic lawyers, led by Sir Bill Cash, to pass judgment on any concessions secured by Mr Cox.

Yesterday, the group set out three tests the changes must pass. These include a ‘clearly worded, legally-binding treaty-level clause which unambiguously overrides’ the text of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The language ‘must go beyond simply re-emphasising/re-interpreting the temporary nature of the backstop’.

And the changes must demonstrate ‘a clear and unambiguous route out of the backstop if trade talks fail’.

Sabine Weyand, deputy to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, yesterday suggested the demands are ‘way beyond’ what is on offer.

But Tory MP Michael Tomlinson, who will sit on the new committee, said Eurosceptics had already compromised by accepting that the change did not necessarily have to be written into the text of the Withdrawal Agreement. 

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