Theresa May‘s knife-edge parliamentary victory on her flagship Brexit bill has guaranteed that a future Conservative government can deliver a “clean Brexit”, even if the prime minister fails, says Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The prominent Brexiteer insisted that the prospect of the UK remaining under the rules of the single market or customs union – a major red line for Brexiteers – had been “significantly reduced” by the successful passage of the EU Withdrawal Bill this week.
In a warning to the prime minister, Mr Rees-Mogg says the lack of conditions in the bill meant that a future government could simply tear it up and seek a better one if her deal proves unacceptable.
It comes as a new poll found nearly half of voters would back a fresh referendum on the final deal, ahead of the second anniversary of the historic vote on Saturday.
However Mr Rees-Mogg, who chairs the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory backbenchers, says it was “absurd” to consider another referendum – and only a repeal of the bill would prevent the UK from breaking with Brussels in March 2019.
He also says the chances of a bad deal which left Britain in a ‘semi-vassal’ state were now low, in part because the prime minister would be unable to secure a majority in the Commons for such an arrangement.
“A ‘Brexit in Name Only’ now has to get through parliament, whereas before the withdrawal bill was passed it could have been included in the withdrawal bill. It hasn’t been,” Rees-Mogg told the Press Association.
“The legal position is now so much stronger for a clean Brexit. Crucially this makes the prime minister’s negotiating hand much stronger.”
MPs and peers spent more than 270 hours thrashing out the detail of the key Brexit legislation, which will end the supremacy of EU law and transfer legislation onto the domestic statute books ahead of Britain’s exit from the bloc.
The prime minister managed to see off a Tory revolt on the bill after government whips persuaded pro-EU rebels to walk away from blocking a proposal to allow parliament to direct the approach to a no-deal Brexit.
The passage of the bill should dispel suspicions in Brussels that Britain could change its mind and stay, Mr Rees-Mogg says.
It will also allow Ms May to go to Brussels and say, “Look, if you want the £39bn [for the divorce bill] you’ve got to give me a deal I can get through parliament”, he continued.
The North East Somerset MP added: “The basis for a deal is actually quite straightforward... the EU wants our money and we want a trade deal.
“For £39bn we should be able to buy a pretty good trade deal.”
But the absence of conditions in the Bill also meant that if the agreement which emerges from the current round of negotiations proves unacceptable, a future government could simply tear it up and seek a better one.
Mr Rees-Mogg says: “What we agree in this period and is then legislated for will be possible for any future government to change in the ordinary course of events.
“Should we sign up to a customs union or the single market? In my view, absolutely not, it would be a great mistake and would leave us as a semi-vassal state.
“But EU law would have no direct effect in this country and any future government could change it.”
His comments came as a survey of voters found some 48 per cent wanted a referendum on the final deal, against 25 per cent who did not want another vote.
The Survation poll, for ITV’s Good Morning Britain, also suggested that a fresh poll would produce a very different outcome, with the UK voting to remain in the EU by a margin of 53 per cent to 47 per cent.
It also found that 43 per cent of voters back a “soft Brexit” – in which the UK would stay in both the single market and customs union – while 37 per cent favour a “hard Brexit” in which Britain would leave both.