Theresa May: ‘We are going to leave but we are going to do so in a smooth and orderly way’ © Parliamentlive.tv
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Theresa May achieved the rare feat of uniting her Conservative party on Brexit on Monday afternoon, as Tory MPs from all sides lined up to hail her “triumph” in finalising a “divorce” deal with the EU.
Mrs May said the deal was good for both Leavers and Remainers, as Ken Clarke, the pro-EU former chancellor, labelled it a “triumph”. The deal was also welcomed by Iain Duncan Smith, the Eurosceptic former Tory leader.
The calm on the Tory benches was aided by Mrs May’s concession earlier in the day for limits on the sweeping “Henry VIII powers” that would have allowed her to implement details of the Brexit deal with little parliamentary scrutiny.
But the peace could be shortlived as cabinet ministers prepare to set out sharply differing visions of a future EU/UK trade deal. Michael Gove, the Eurosceptic environment secretary, is already fighting to regain control from Brussels on fishing policy as soon as March 2019.
Mrs May told MPs on Monday that there was “a new sense of optimism in the talks” and that she expected EU leaders would agree to open trade and transition talks at a summit later this week.
“This is good news for the people who voted Leave, who were worried that we were so bogged down in the negotiations, tortuous negotiations, it was never going to happen,” she said.
“It is good news for people who voted Remain, who were worried we were going to crash out without a deal,” she added. “We are going to leave but we are going to do so in a smooth and orderly way.”
Mrs May confirmed the deal implied a British “divorce bill” of between £35bn and £39bn, and that her two-year “implementation period” would be on current membership terms, meaning the UK would accept all EU laws and European Court of Justice rulings.
But party unity will be tested next week when the cabinet holds its first discussion on a future trade agreement with the EU, with pro-Brexit ministers pushing for the UK to “diverge” from the European regulatory model.
Meanwhile, Mr Gove is pushing for Britain to take back control of its fishing policies immediately as the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, while the EU is insisting that all EU law must apply during a two-year transition period. Downing Street said on Monday that it was “a matter for the negotiation”.
Earlier in the day, Mrs May offered a significant concession on the legal process for Brexit, agreeing to water down the Henry VIII powers included in the EU withdrawal bill. A parliamentary committee would now recommend the level of scrutiny that MPs would have over particular ministerial decisions, she said.
Mrs May also wrote an open letter on her Facebook page to 3m EU citizens living in Britain on Monday, saying their rights would be guaranteed after Brexit.
She said: “I greatly value the depth of the contributions you make, enriching every part of our economy, our society, our culture and our national life.”
David Davis, Brexit secretary, tried to douse concerns in Dublin that Britain was backing out of promises to keep the Ireland land border open after Brexit.
Having said on Sunday that the pledge to avoid a hard border in Ireland was a “statement of intent” rather than a legally biding move, Mr Davis insisted on Monday that media had twisted his words.
“Of course it’s legally enforceable under the withdrawal agreement, but even if that didn’t happen for some reason, if something went wrong, we would still be seeking to provide a frictionless invisible border with Ireland,” he told LBC.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, said it was important not to add to confusion, saying clarifications from London would help EU leaders give the go-ahead for the next phase of Brexit negotiations at this week’s summit.