After the European Research Group announced on Monday night that they would not get behind the Brady amendment to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements, it looked as though the grand plan to salvage Theresa May’s deal was on the rocks. Now there is a new proposal doing the rounds which has the backing of both senior ERG members – including Steve Baker – and the support of Remain-leaning Tories including Nicky Morgan. Dubbed the Malthouse Compromise (in honour of housing minister Kit Malthouse who helped broker the proposal) it lays out an alternative to the backstop.
The proposal is comprised of two parts. Plan A is to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and renegotiate the backstop. This would see May go back to Brussels and attempt to transform the backstop into the version set out in a Brexiteer report last year. The transition period would also then be extended so there was more time to agree the future relationship. Should this fail, May would fall to Plan B which is akin to a managed no deal. Here the Prime Minister would ask the EU to offer the transition period even though no Withdrawal Agreement had been agreed. In return, the UK would honour its financial contributions and commitment on EU citizens’ rights:
So far the idea has received a relatively warm reaction from Conservative MPs across the divide. However there are two potential cons. Firstly, all the signs so far suggest Theresa May is not particularly fond of the proposal and therefore the government may not get behind it. The Prime Minister met with its backers this week for what was by all accounts a fractious lunch. There is no official comment from No. 10 yet but the fact the government plans to whip in favour for the Brady amendment which is much less specific shows where their initial preference lies.
Secondly, would Brussels entertain the proposals? On Monday, EU negotiator Sabine Weyand said there was no chance of reopening the Withdrawal Agreement. Now this may be bluffing but if it’s not then Plan A quickly becomes Plan B and Remain-leaning ministers may decide a managed no deal (which could just become no deal if the EU says no) is a step too far. However, given that there is little else uniting the Tories on Brexit right now, a good number of MPs from various factions believe No. 10 would be foolish to rule out the idea completely.