Tory Brexiteers from European Research Group agree to vote for Brexit deal

29 December 2020, 16:24

Senior Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg has been a key figure in the ERG.
Senior Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg has been a key figure in the ERG. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

The European Research Group of Conservative brexiteers say they will vote for Boris Johnson's 1,246 page deal, declaring it "preserves the UK's sovereignty".

The ERG group of senior Eurosecptic MPs within the Conservative Party assembled a self-styled "star chamber" of lawyers to examine the agreement.

The deal will be signed in Brussels by EU chiefs at 8.30am UK time on Wednesday, before being flown by an RAF plane to London for Boris Johnson to sign, Downing Street say.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said the international treaty would be signed by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel before being flown across the Channel.

A debate and vote on the legislation will be held in Parliament on Wednesday, with MPs widely expected to pass the deal by a substantial margin after Labour said they would support it.

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In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, the "star chamber", led by senior Tory Sir Bill Cash, said: "Our overall conclusion is that the Agreement preserves the UK's sovereignty as a matter of law and fully respects the norms of international sovereign-to-sovereign treaties.

"The 'level playing field' clauses go further than in comparable trade agreements, but their impact on the practical exercise of sovereignty is likely to be limited if addressed by a robust government.

"In any event they do not prevent the UK from changing its laws as it sees fit at a risk of tariff countermeasures, and if those were unacceptable the Agreement could be terminated on 12 months' notice."

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The ERG's legal advisory committee included Sir Bill, Martin Howe QC, Barnabas Reynolds, Christopher Howarth, Emily Law and the MP David Jones.

On fish they argued the deal "temporarily limits the exercise of the UK's sovereign rights over its waters that would apply in the absence of the Agreement".

However, they said that at the end of the five and a half year fishing transition period, the UK "will have the legal right to take full control of its waters".

The "question of practical sovereignty" is therefore "dependent on the preparedness and robustness of the UK Government's response at that time, which we are confident they will achieve," the committee said.

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The backing from backbench Tory MPs comes as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer faces a rebellion over the party's backing of Mr Johnson's deal.

Sir Keir is calling on Labour MPs to support the "thin" agreement despite misgivings it would fail to protect many key economic sectors, arguing the alternative of ending the Brexit transition period without a deal would be even worse for the economy.

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell and ex-cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw are among the signatories to a statement calling on opposition parties not to support the "rotten" agreement.

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Meanwhile, the SNP and Liberal Democrats say they will vote against the deal.

The DUP - which backed Brexit - has also said it will oppose the deal because the Brexit divorce settlement imposes customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.