May denies giving up on better Brexit deal

Theresa May speaking to business figures in Northern IrelandImage copyright
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Theresa May has denied claims from DUP leader Arlene Foster that she had “given up” on negotiations before agreeing the Brexit deal.

Mrs Foster said the PM’s trip to promote the deal to businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland was a “waste of time” as Parliament would not back it.

Meanwhile, former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon told the BBC the deal was “doomed” and must be renegotiated.

Mrs May insists it protects the “vital interests” of the whole of the UK.

After enduring criticism of the Brexit withdrawal agreement in the Commons on Monday, the prime minister began Tuesday by taking issue with US President Donald Trump’s suggestions that the deal could threaten any future US-UK trade deal.

And as she travelled to Wales and Northern Ireland, promising that her Brexit plans would strengthen “every corner” of the UK, she came under fire from Mrs Foster, whose party has a parliamentary pact to support the Conservative government in key votes.

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Media captionArlene Foster on the Brexit backstop: “It’s time to get rid of it and to try to find a better deal”

“The disappointing thing for me is that the prime minister has given up and she is saying this is where we are and we just have to accept it,” Mrs Foster told the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg.

“She may have given up on further negotiations and trying to find a better deal but I have not given up.”

While people were “fed up” with the Brexit process dragging on, that was not a good enough reason “to accept what’s on the table”, Mrs Foster added.

Sir Michael Fallon’s decision to come out against the deal is another blow to the prime minister, who is struggling to muster support in Parliament ahead of a Commons vote on 11 December.

Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and the Democratic Unionists have said they will reject the terms of the UK’s withdrawal and future relations negotiated by Mrs May.

Many Tories have also said publicly they are opposed, with many opponents saying it will keep the UK too closely tied to EU rules and make it harder to strike future trade deals with other countries.

Sir Michael told MPs on Monday the Brexit agreement was a “huge gamble” as it would see the UK give up its power to influence EU rules and regulations in return for vague assurances over future trade arrangements.

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Media captionFormer Defence Secretary Michael Fallon says negotiators should be sent back to Brussels

Sir Michael, who served as defence secretary under David Cameron and Theresa May before having to resign a year ago, told Tuesday’s BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was the “worst of all worlds”. He suggested the PM’s future was “up to colleagues”.

This is “not a good deal and we need a better deal”, he said, adding that Mr Trump’s criticism of its repercussions for transatlantic relations “could not simply be brushed off”.

However, Downing Street has insisted the UK will be able to pursue an independent trade policy under the terms of the political declaration on future relations.

And the prime minister is continuing to making the case for the agreement, which she says delivers on the 2016 referendum vote in key areas and is in the national interest.

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Mrs May has said Welsh farmers will enjoy a brighter future outside the Common Agricultural Policy

During a visit to an agricultural show in Builth Wells, Powys, Mrs May said: “As regards the United States, we have already been talking to them about the sort of agreement that we could have in the future.

“We have a working group set up and that is working very well, has met several times and is continuing to work with the US on this.”

Under the proposed agreement, the UK would not be able to bring into force any trade deal with a country outside the EU until the end of the proposed transition period – currently scheduled to last until 31 December 2020.

In reality, any bilateral agreement between the UK and the US is likely to take years to negotiate given its complexity, differing standards in areas such as agriculture, and the fact it would require ratification by the US Congress.

In other developments:

Could Brexit be delayed?

Sir Michael said the 29 March 2019 date for Brexit, which is enshrined in UK law, may have to be pushed back to give negotiators the time to make major improvements to the agreement.

All 28 EU states would need to agree to extend the Article 50 process of negotiations to allow this to happen, something Theresa May has repeatedly ruled out.

Cabinet Office David Lidington said he did not think doing this “would get us anywhere” as the EU had made clear this was the only deal on the table.

He told Today there was no “Plan B” and the agreement was a “decent compromise” which would provide a springboard to the next stage of negotiations on the two sides’ future relationship.

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