PM 'very confident' MPs will want to vote for Brexit deal on Saturday

17 October 2019, 10:44 | Updated: 17 October 2019, 21:01

Boris Johnson says he is confident MPs will want to vote for his new Brexit deal on Saturday.

The prime minister told a news conference that his new Brexit agreement is a "great deal for our country".

He said Britain will now be able to "come out of the EU as one United Kingdom", despite describing the process as "long, painful and divisive".

"The building now begins," he added.

Mr Johnson has been negotiating with EU officials to work out the details of his new proposals for Brexit, including solutions to the Irish border problem.

Despite the DUP saying early this morning that they would not support his offers, he announced he had a new deal to "get Brexit done".

Arlene Foster told Sky News following the PM's statement this evening: "We are not going to vote for this on Saturday but... Saturday is not the end. It's not even the beginning of the end."

And the DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds said of Mr Johnson: "He has been too eager by far to get a deal at any cost, and the fact of the matter is, if he held his nerve and held out he would, of course, have got better concessions that kept the integrity, both economic and constitutionally, of the United Kingdom."

Ian Blackford, leader of the SNP in Westminster, has tweeted that he has tabled an amendment to the "appalling" deal, demanding an immediate extension and general election.

"We can't leave power with this Tory government any longer, it's time for Labour & other opposition parties to stop dithering and act," he wrote.

Mr Johnson said his new deal means that the UK can come out of the EU as "one United Kingdom - England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, together.

"And it means we can decide our future together. We can take back control, as the phrase goes, of our money, our borders, our laws, together.

"And we will be able to do free trade agreements around the world."

But the deal still needs to be accepted by MPs, who will debate the contents of the proposal and vote on the deal in Westminster on Saturday.

Piling pressure onto MPs to accept the deal, Jean-Claude Juncker said there would be "no prolongation" - but President of the European Commission Donald Tusk later said that if asked for an extension, he would "consult member states to see how to react".

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar described the UK as "like an old friend that is going on a journey without us", adding there would "always be a place" if it decided to return.

He described having "mixed feelings" about reaching a deal, signalling his "regret" over seeing the UK leave.

Meanwhile, Mr Tusk told reporters he feels "sad" about the UK's exit from the European Union, but has insisted that if the UK ever decides to return, "our door will always be open".

He insisted the deal would safeguard peace and stability in Ireland and provide a legal certainty to the problems created by Brexit.

Mr Juncker echoed Mr Tusk's sadness over Britain's exit from the EU, although added he was "happy and relieved" to have reached a deal.

Earlier, the prime minister tweeted: "We've got a great new deal that takes back control - now parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities like the cost of living, the NHS, violent crime and our environment."

Chancellor Sajid Javid has this evening refused to produce an assessment of the impact of the new deal on the UK economy.

Two groups of MPs asked for a Treasury report ahead of Saturday's vote, but speaking in the US, Mr Javid said: "There is no need for an impact assessment. It's self-evident that the certainty (of this deal) is a good thing."

He added: "This isn't a debate just about economics. It's about the fabric of our democracy."

A spokesman for Mr Johnson said the deal gets rid of the backstop - the "insurance policy" to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland which saw Theresa May's version of the deal defeated several times in the House of Commons.

Mr Varadkar tweeted: "We have #Brexit Agreement that allows UK leave EU in orderly way. We have unique solution for NI that respects unique history and geography. Its good for Ireland and NI. No hard border. All-island and East-West economy can continue thrive. Protects Single Market & our place in it."

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator on Brexit, said the backstop had been replaced with a new approach.

After the PM revealed a deal had been reached, the DUP said: "The Democratic Unionist Party has worked since the referendum result to secure a negotiated deal as we leave the European Union. We have been consistent that we will only ever consider supporting arrangements that are in Northern Ireland's long-term economic and constitutional interests and protect the integrity of the Union.

"These proposals are not, in our view, beneficial to the economic well-being of Northern Ireland and they undermine the integrity of the Union. Our main route of trade on an East-West basis will be subject to rules of the European Union Customs Union, notwithstanding that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK Customs territory.

"All goods would be subject to a customs check regime regardless of their final destination. The default position, even for goods travelling from one part of our country to another, is that they are considered under the EU Customs code unless otherwise agreed. We recognise that only those goods ultimately destined for the Republic of Ireland would be subject to tariffs but the reality remains that the EU would have a veto on which goods would be exempt and which would not under the Joint Committee arrangements.

"This is not acceptable within the internal borders of the United Kingdom."

The party flagged the prospect of increased costs for consumers, and said while consent was a good move, there would be no opportunity for Stormont to approve the arrangements in the first place.

The statement added: "Saturday's vote in parliament on the proposals will only be the start of a long process to get any Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the House of Commons."

As Mr Johnson arrived in Brussels for the summit, he and Mr Juncker gave a news conference in which the president of the EU Commission praised the UK PM for "excellent relations" over the past few weeks.

Mr Johnson called the deal a "reasonable and fair outcome" and said it reflected the hard work of many weeks.

He said: "The UK leaves whole and entire on October 31, and Northern Ireland and every other part of the UK can take part in free trade deals, and that we can take together as a single United Kingdom, decisions about the future of the country - our borders and our tariffs.

"I hope very much now that my fellow MPs in Westminster do now come together to get Brexit done and get this deal over the line and to deliver Brexit without any more delay."

The Commons proceedings on Saturday mark the first weekend sitting in 37 years, to discuss the proposal following the EU summit in Brussels. The government will put forward the new agreement for a vote, which has the support of the cabinet.

Mr Juncker tweeted: "Where there is a will, there is a #deal - we have one! It's a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK and it is testament to our commitment to find solutions. I recommend that #EUCO endorses this deal."

In a letter he said it was "high time" to complete the divorce process and move on to negotiate the future relationship.

He later said "if we have a deal, we have a deal. There is no need for prolongation" though an EU source told Sky News it would not solely be his choice and Mr Tusk later said that if asked to consider and extension, he would "consult member states to see how to react".

Under the Benn Act, Mr Johnson was required to ask for an extension if there was no deal agreed by the time of this summit in Belgium. He previously refused to confirm he would ask for an extension.

Mr Barnier said the deal on the table would last until the end of the transition agreement, which is due to finish at the end of 2020.

He said the UK had agreed to pay its financial commitments to the EU, estimated to be £39bn, and added the EU and the UK were committed to protecting peace on the island of Ireland during the negotiations and avoiding a hard border.

He said: "This text should provide legal certainty in every area where Brexit, like any separation, creates uncertainty."

Mr Barnier said the wording of the agreement should not come as a surprise because much of it is the same as was put forward a year ago, but there were new elements on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

He said there would not be ratification of it in the upcoming EU summit.

Asked about whether Mr Johnson had assured him of support from the Commons, Mr Barnier said everyone there had done their jobs, and the Commons would have to take a decision.

He said: "Mr Johnson said to President Juncker this morning he has faith in his ability to convince the majority he needs in the House of Commons.

"He said based on this agreement and the explanations he intends to give, he has confidence in his ability to win that vote."

The news of a deal has been met with little support from political opponents of the prime minister in the UK.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would not back the deal which he said was "even worse" than the agreement secured by Mr Johnson's predecessor Theresa May, and called for a second referendum. He confirmed Labour would not bring a motion of no confidence against the government.

Mr Corbyn said: "From what we know, it seems the prime minister has negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May's, which was overwhelmingly rejected.

"These proposals risk triggering a race to the bottom on rights and protections: putting food safety at risk, cutting environmental standards and workers' rights, and opening up our NHS to a takeover by US private corporations.

"This sell out deal won't bring the country together and should be rejected.

"The best way to get Brexit sorted is to give the people the final say in a public vote."

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said: "The fight to stop Brexit is far from over.

"Boris Johnson's deal would be bad for our economy, bad for our public services, and bad for our environment.

"The next few days will set the direction of our country for generations, and I am more determined than ever to stop Brexit.

"When this deal comes to parliament we will use every possible opportunity to give the public a People's Vote on the Brexit deal that includes the option to remain in the EU."

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The SNP's leader Nicola Sturgeon said her party's MPs would vote against the deal. Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said the deal should be rejected.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Scotland did not vote for Brexit in any form, and SNP MPs will not vote for Brexit in any form - especially when it is clear that Scotland, alone of the nations of the UK, is being treated unfairly."

Of the prime minister's allies, Simon Clarke, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, tweeted: "It is marvellous news that we have a good new Brexit Deal that will allow us to take back control and leave on 31 October. The anti-democratic backstop has been abolished, we will be able to strike our own free trade deals and Northern Ireland will be in the UK customs territory."

Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons, said the deal was exciting and "fundamentally different" because the "undemocratic" backstop was gone.

He said he hoped the DUP would take comfort in what the deal delivers for the whole of the UK.

Michael Gove said the government has "absolutely not" thrown the DUP under a bus.

He told Sky News: "This is a great deal, it means that we take back control of our money, our borders and our laws.

"It honours the referendum mandate and it also means the UK leaves the EU as one nation, whole and entire.

"It means that we are one customs territory, we can do free trade agreements with other countries and all of the UK, including Northern Ireland, can benefit from those deals."

He added: "The backstop has been ditched, the EU have been clear.

"Actually it's a very big achievement by the prime minister because until very recently the EU were saying there was no way the backstop would go.

"It's now gone. And it does mean the future of Northern Ireland will be decided by the people of Northern Ireland.

"A majority of the people of Northern Ireland will be able to decide the arrangements in this deal to persist in the future."

In Europe, Mark Rutte, the Dutch leader, said it was "very encouraging" that there is an agreement but added "now we have to study the details".