Brexit talks: Eurosceptic Tories say PM must 'hold firm' to no-deal pledge

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Group suggested EU’s negotiating team were taking UK’s intention to walk away seriously

Iain Duncan Smith, left, said Boris Johnson had ‘made his bed and he has to lie in it’.
Iain Duncan Smith, left, said Boris Johnson had ‘made his bed and he has to lie in it’. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/AFP/Getty Images
Iain Duncan Smith, left, said Boris Johnson had ‘made his bed and he has to lie in it’. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/AFP/Getty Images
Chief political correspondent

Last modified on Sun 13 Dec 2020 19.44 EST

Eurosceptic Tories have said Boris Johnson must “hold firm” to his commitment to no deal, suggesting Brussels was finally taking the UK’s intention to walk away from talks seriously.

After reports over the weekend that the chances of a no-deal Brexit had risen to 80%, EU leaders announced that talks would resume past the given deadline of Sunday as both sides agreed to “go the extra mile” to secure a deal.

Former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith said he expected talks would go to the wire and that Brexiteers may even be able to accept a short extension to allow the EU to ratify any deal forged before 31 December – but added that Johnson should still be prepared to walk away if talks came to a standstill.

“He has made his bed and he has to lie in it. Now he has said this deal is unacceptable and we have to be prepared to go for WTO terms, then he has nowhere to go. Now the European Union are the ones who have the flexibility and they must move if they want a deal,” Duncan Smith said.

Former minister David Jones, the vice-chair of the influential European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers, said there was little purpose protracting talks if the two sides were still poles apart.

“There will be a time when the UK should say – is there any purpose in continuing this?” he said. “It is not a question of flouncing off, but at some point one party has to make the call.

Timeline

From Brefusal to Brexit: a history of Britain in the EU

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Brefusal

The French president, Charles de Gaulle, vetoes Britain’s entry to EEC, accusing the UK of a “deep-seated hostility” towards the European project.

Brentry

With Sir Edward Heath having signed the accession treaty the previous year, the UK enters the EEC in an official ceremony complete with a torch-lit rally, dickie-bowed officials and a procession of political leaders, including former prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home.

Referendum

The UK decides to stay in the common market after 67% voted "yes". Margaret Thatcher, later to be leader of the Conservative party, campaigned to remain.

'Give us our money back'

Margaret Thatcher negotiated what became known as the UK rebate with other EU members after the "iron lady" marched into the former French royal palace at Fontainebleau to demand “our own money back” claiming for every £2 contributed we get only £1 back” despite being one of the “three poorer” members of the community.

It was a move that sowed the seeds of Tory Euroscepticism that was to later cause the Brexit schism in the party. 

The Bruges speech

Thatcher served notice on the EU community in a defining moment in EU politics in which she questioned the expansionist plans of Jacques Delors, who had remarked that 80% of all decisions on economic and social policy would be made by the European Community within 10 years with a European government in “embryo”. That was a bridge too far for Thatcher.

The cold war ends

Collapse of Berlin wall and fall of communism in eastern Europe, which would later lead to expansion of EU.

'No, no, no'

Divisions between the UK and the EU deepened with Thatcher telling the Commons in an infamous speech it was ‘no, no, no’ to what she saw as Delors’ continued power grab. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper ratchets up its opposition to Europe with a two-fingered “Up yours Delors” front page.

Black Wednesday

A collapse in the pound forced prime minister John Major and the then chancellor Norman Lamont to pull the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

The single market

On 1 January, customs checks and duties were removed across the bloc. Thatcher hailed the vision of “a single market without barriers – visible or invisible – giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people".

Maastricht treaty

Tory rebels vote against the treaty that paved the way for the creation of the European Union. John Major won the vote the following day in a pyrrhic victory. 

Repairing the relationship

Tony Blair patches up the relationship. Signs up to social charter and workers' rights.

Ukip

Nigel Farage elected an MEP and immediately goes on the offensive in Brussels. “Our interests are best served by not being a member of this club,” he said in his maiden speech. “The level playing field is about as level as the decks of the Titanic after it hit an iceberg.”

The euro

Chancellor Gordon Brown decides the UK will not join the euro.

EU enlarges to to include eight countries of the former eastern bloc including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

EU expands again, allowing Romania and Bulgaria into the club.

Migrant crisis

Anti-immigration hysteria seems to take hold with references to “cockroches” by Katie Hopkins in the Sun and tabloid headlines such as “How many more can we take?” and “Calais crisis: send in the dogs”.

David Cameron returns from Brussels with an EU reform package - but it isn't enough to appease the Eurosceptic wing of his own party

Brexit referendum

The UK votes to leave the European Union, triggering David Cameron's resignation and paving the way for Theresa May to become prime minister

Britain leaves the EU

After years of parliamentary impasse during Theresa May's attempt to get a deal agreed, the UK leaves the EU.

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“With the approach of the end of transition period, it cannot go beyond the end of next week. We are coming to the end of the road, including the EU’s capacity to ratify a deal.”

Multiple cabinet sources underlined that Johnson would have no issue with his cabinet were he to walk away from the talks. Shortly after his call with von der Leyen, Johnson spoke directly to the cabinet in what was described as a “very brief update call” where he confirmed negotiations would be continuing into next week.

There was no debate to be had, one cabinet source said, and very few cabinet ministers took the opportunity to offer any comment.

“Everyone is agreed about the position to keep negotiating as long as it is worthwhile – and everyone is behind the PM in pursuing Australia-style terms if not,” one cabinet source said, a reference to leaving without a deal.

'We need to be prepared': EU leaders brace for possibility of no-deal Brexit – video
01:32
'We need to be prepared': EU leaders brace for possibility of no-deal Brexit – video

Though cabinet ministers have given a public display of support, departments are lobbying behind the scenes for a no-deal bailout fund after reports over the weekend that the government was planning resilience deals for sheep farmers, fishermen, car manufacturers and chemical suppliers.

Environment secretary George Eustice, the cabinet office minister Michael Gove and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland secretaries Alister Jack, Simon Hart and Brandon Lewis were reported to be working on the plans which are yet to get the chancellor Rishi Sunak’s buy-in.

A Treasury source said HM Treasury was definitively not working on a bailout plan though another government source said cabinet ministers were lobbying the chancellor.

Though the UK parliament will not have a legally binding vote, Jones said he believed it was the government’s intention to have a vote on the deal. The ERG has said it would like to consult with its legal panel of experts before making a decision whether to endorse the deal.

“In parliament we would like to have time to scrutinise it and it will take several days. If there is a vote it will probably have to be between Christmas and New Year,” Jones said.

Former cabinet minister John Redwood suggested hardline Brexiteers may not be happy with any form of deal presented by Johnson. “A long complex legal agreement that locks the UK back into many features of the EU that hinder us is not the Christmas present the UK needs,” he said.

However, a number of senior Conservative MPs who had expressed fears in recent days at the prospect of no deal welcomed the commitment to more talks.

Former health minister Stephen Hammond said: “All efforts must be made to reach an agreement. Ending the year without a FTA would be bad for the UK and EU. I really urge the negotiating teams to keep working to find a pragmatic solution – for the benefit of all our citizens.”

Damian Green, a former cabinet minister, said: “No deal would be terrible. So continuing the talks is good news.”

The UK shadow business secretary, Ed Miliband, urged the prime minister to keep talking – giving the strongest confirmation yet that his party would back a deal in parliament, despite protestations from his party. Asked if Labour would vote for a deal if it were achieved, Miliband said his party had said: “We’re minded to support it.”