Leading Brexiteer Mark Francois has warned Boris Johnson that the new “Red Wall” Tory MPs elected a year ago will not support a Brexit deal that undermines the UK’s sovereignty.
The former government minister, 55, claims any attempt to “bounce” MPs into voting for a complex agreement with Brussels “will go down like a lead balloon” with Tory backbenchers.
And Mr Francois has served notice that the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs, which he chairs, will live up to its name and go through a new treaty “with a fine-tooth comb”.
MP for the rural Essex constituency of Rayleigh and Wickford, Mr Francois has been a leading figure in the ERG for some years and was instrumental in defeating Theresa May‘s Brexit deal.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, he says the ERG fully supports Mr Johnson and his chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost for “hanging tough” in negotiations with the EU’s Michel Barnier.
But he writes: “If there is some unacceptable ‘poison pill’ that truly undermines our sovereignty, buried deep within Article X of the voluminous text, then we will find it.
“To the displeasure not just of all our members but also no doubt all those new ‘Red Wall’ Conservative back benchers who were elected on an unequivocal pledge to their constituents to ‘get Brexit done’.
“Similarly, any misguided attempt to bounce parliament into voting for such a complex treaty, before people have even had time to examine it properly, would go down like a lead balloon on the back benches.”
With just hours before the latest deadline for a deal – midnight on Sunday – set by the European Parliament, Mr Barnier issued another update, again revealing little progress and continuing stalemate on fishing.
In a tweet, he said: “In this crucial moment for the negotiations, we continue to work hard with David Frost and his team. The EU remains committed to a fair, reciprocal and balanced agreement.
“We respect the sovereignty of the UK and we expect the same. Both must have the right to set their own laws and control their own waters. And we should both be able to act when our interests are at stake.”
Earlier, a UK government source said: “We need to get any deal right, and based on terms which respect what the British people voted for.
“Unfortunately, the EU are still struggling to get the flexibility needed from member states and are continuing to make demands that are incompatible with our independence.
“We cannot accept a deal that doesn’t leave us in control of our own laws or waters.
“We’re continuing to try every possible path to an agreement, but without a substantial shift from the commission we will be leaving on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms on 31 December.”
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Writing before Mr Barnier’s tweet, Mr Francois concluded his Sunday Telegraph article by saying: “As Michel Barnier loves to remind us, ‘the clock is ticking’ – so let’s see what happens just before midnight.”