LONDON — A top Brexiteer said on Wednesday there is still hope of a new divorce deal if Brussels, under time pressure, changes course and agrees to rewrite the agreement.
Jacob Rees-Mogg said Conservative eurosceptics who rebelled against Prime Minister Theresa May to vote down the Brexit deal could end up backing a rewritten agreement if the Irish border backstop is removed.
Rees-Mogg, who leads the European Research Group of hardcore Conservative Brexiteers, said he could back an EU divorce deal only if the current legal guarantee for keeping the Irish border open was junked.
"This deal does not deliver Brexit," the 49-year-old member of parliament said in a speech to the eurosceptic Bruges Group think-tank, holding up the hefty agreement.
"As long as that backstop is there, I will not vote for this deal."
The EU has ruled out any renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement.
Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29, with or without a deal.
The backstop would kick in if London and Brussels cannot agree new trading arrangements that would keep the Irish border free-flowing when the transition period finishes at the end of 2020.
Rees-Mogg said the EU wanted a withdrawal deal by March 29 and "if the only way to get it is by re-opening the text, that is what they will have to do".
"There are two types of hope: one is that we will get a better deal. The other hope: tick tock goes the clock," he said.
He said any deal would be better than remaining in the EU, but the risks of a no-deal Brexit were low when set against the current deal.
In last week’s vote, MPs voted 432 to 202 to reject the divorce deal presented by May.
Rees-Mogg said there were 110 eurosceptic Conservatives plus Northern Ireland’s 10 like-minded Democratic Unionists who voted against it -- enough to get a deal over the line with the removal of the backstop.
"A reformation of this deal could be achieved that could make it acceptable. But it is not there yet," he said.
He also said forthcoming attempts by diehard EU Remainers to give parliament greater control over the Brexit process were a "constitutional outrage".
"We must not allow out constitutional norms to be overthrown by those who always rejected the vote" to leave, he said. — AFP