Brexit news latest: UK clashes with France on deal as Geoffrey Cox jokes of his ‘codpiece’ proposals

Britain and France openly clashed today as bickering and recriminations broke out over Theresa May’s stalled Brexit deal.

In a withering assessment of the complex legal “escape hatch” from the backstop being sought by the UK, France’s Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau said: “There were no precise proposals — there were ideas.”

She added on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are waiting for a sustainable proposal.”

Chancellor Philip Hammond, interviewed a few minutes later, responded to her words saying: “We consider we have tabled a sustainable proposal.”

Mr Hammond said all his EU counterparts were telling him in private it was “absurd” for a country as large as the UK to potentially be “trapped against its will” in a backstop, the legal contract drawn up to prevent Britain adopting policies that would cause the return of checkpoints along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. One EU diplomat reportedly described as “insane” the UK’s demands for a legally binding “escape hatch” based on independent arbitration.

There was hilarity in the Commons when Attorney General Geoffrey Cox referred to his proposals as “Cox’s Codpiece” and went on: “What I am concerned to ensure is that what is inside the codpiece is in full working order!”

 The public disagreements appeared to confirm that there is a huge gap between the two sides just days from Tuesday’s meaningful votes. Senior MPs say they do not believe the Prime Minister has “a hope” of reversing the 230-vote defeat she suffered in January.

Mr Hammond issued a warning to Brexiteers that voting down her deal would risk delaying Brexit and also the possibility of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and rebel Tories striking a deal to lock Britain into a customs union. If the Prime Minister’s deal does not get approved on Tuesday then it is likely that the Commons will vote to extend the Article 50 procedure, he told Today. “And where we go thereafter is highly uncertain.”

Urging Tory MPs to “think very, very carefully” before voting against the deal, he offered an extra inducement by saying that an agreement would allow him to transfer billions of pounds earmarked for no-deal emergencies for a spree “on policing, on social care, on schools, on higher education, defence, all the other things people want to see”.

Steve Baker, vice-chair of the European Research Group, rejected Mr Hammond’s call, saying: “He is asking us to back a de facto Customs Union, with Brexit in name only… it’s a poor choice.” 

Ministers today unveiled plans to match EU regulations to keep planes flying in a “no deal” scenario — in an effort to reassure the public that they can book flights with confidence for after March 29.


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