Brexiteer Michael Gove given final say in bid to win over MPs to deal

Charles Hymas
Michael Gove arrives at Downing Street for Cabinet meeting - Bloomberg

Theresa Mayhas handed the task of winding up the five-day debate on her Brexit deal to leading Cabinet brexiteer Michael Gove in a move that surprised MPs.

Although Number 10 said it was not convention for a debate to be closed by the opening speaker, it had been widely expected she would take the chance to make a final appeal to MPs to avoid defeat.

It may be that Downing Street believes Gove, a leading figure in the referendum campaign to quit the EU, could sway backbench Brexiteers but it opens her up to further criticism if the strategy backfires.

In the Commons yesterday the scale of the task was laid bare as former ministers, senior Tory MPs and DUP MPs voiced  their opposition to the deal.

Mark Harper, the Tory former chief whip who revealed in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph he planned to break the party whip for the first time in 13 years as an MP, said Mrs May’s deal would see the Tories’ relationship with the DUP break down and make it impossible to govern.

He said it could still be saved if the backstop was removed but, if not, then next Tuesday’s anticipated defeat would be repeated over and over again as the relationship with the DUP was “fractured beyond repair.” "I think we would be in office but unable to govern our country effectively," he said.

Yesterday’s second day of the debate was opened by Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who acknowledged Mrs May’s deal was not “perfect in every sense,” it was the “best option available” in ensuring “a smooth exit.”

He warned a no-deal Brexit would mean “an immediate and probably indefinite loss of some security capability which, despite our best efforts, would likely cause some operational disruption when we leave."

By contrast, the deal would allow the UK to continue to work with Brussels on cross-border investigations on modern slavery, using DNA databases to catch criminals, the fast-track extradition of suspects, along with working alongside Europol and Eurojust, he said.

The stance was mocked by former Labour Europe minister Chris Bryant. "That's a great wish list, and it's all in the Political Declaration, but it's no more deliverable than a letter to Santa Claus. It really isn't," said the MP for Rhondda.

"It's all very well having a wish list, but how on earth could a serious Member of Parliament vote for nothing more than a wish list?"

Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary Credit: Getty Images Europe

Mr Javid indicated the long-awaited White Paper setting out Britain’s post-Brext immigration system would be published before Christmas even though MPs will not get a chance to debate it before Tuesday’s vote on the deal.

Challenged on the timing by Labour's Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs committee, He said: "I can tell her that it's certainly still my intention to publish it in December and that hasn't changed."

Tory MP Douglas Ross, who also sits on the committee, said Mr Javid had committed last week to publish before the "meaningful vote" on December 11 but then later said this was unlikely.

He asked: "What happened in those four or five days to change the Home Secretary's mind and does he think it's acceptable that this House should vote on the withdrawal deal without information in the white paper?"

Mr Javid responded: "He asks me what's happened and it's just worth reminding him and the House that this is the most significant change in our immigration system in 45 years and rather than rush the white paper it is important that we focus on the detail and we get it right."

Tory former education secretary Justine Greening and Tory chairwoman of the Health and Social Care Committee Dr Sarah Wollaston later raised concerns over the fact education and health professionals are not highly paid and could as a result be excluded by the new immigration system.

Mr Javid said the new system would "take a careful look at salary levels".