Brexit: Theresa May's deputy David Lidington refuses to say Britain will be 'better off' under proposed deal

Cabinet office minister refuses to echo prime minister's claim that Britain's 'best days lie ahead' - as he says an agreement is 'almost within touching distance'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 13 November 2018 10:19 GMT
Cabinet minister David Lidington refuses to say Britain will be 'better off' under proposed deal

Theresa May’s deputy has refused to say that Britain will be “better off” under her planned Brexit deal, as he admitted there were still big hurdles to an agreement.

David Lidington said the people had taken a “democratic decision” which had to be implemented – regardless of whether it would make the country richer or poorer.

“People took a decision having heard the arguments both about the economics, but also about sovereignty,” the cabinet office minister said.

The comments are a far cry from the prime minister’s promises – repeated at the Tory conference last month – to “make a success of Brexit” and that Britain’s “best days lie ahead”.

They came as Mr Lidington claimed the UK and EU were “almost within touching distance” of a deal, but acknowledged the remaining differences were the “most difficult ones to resolve”.

He also said the controversy over the Irish border backstop, and the UK giving up the power to end it unilaterally, was only “one of the outstanding issues”.

Ms May’s hopes of getting cabinet approval for a deal today have been dashed. Thursday morning is now seen as the last chance, if a special EU summit is to be held this month to sign it off.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Mr Lidington refused – twice – to say that “hand on heart” he believed Britain would better off under the prime minister’s terms for Brexit.

Noting he “campaigned on the Remain side”, he said: “The people took a democratic decision and I accepted before and subsequent to the referendum that, while the vote was close, it was decisive on a massive turnout

“What we were always going to come up with with a deal – if we get a deal - is something that will involve compromise.

“The prime minister could not have been clearer about this in all her major speeches - that there will have to be give and take on both sides.”

Asked, again, if Britain would be “better off”, Mr Lidington said the task ahead was a deal that best “protected jobs and investment and prosperity”.

Ms May claimed on Monday night that "the negotiations for our departure are now in the endgame”, but the negotiators are struggling to bridge the gap over the backstop.

Cabinet members have been told the issue will be hardly discussed at today’s meeting, despite the Brussels teams working almost around-the-clock to make progress.

The EU – as well as insisting the European Court of Justice must rule on ending the backstop – argues the UK must sign up to future rules on state aid, competition, the environment and workers.

Tory Brexiteers fear being effectively tied to the EU single market, as well as being locked into the customs union if the UK cannot end the backstop alone.

Mr Lidington said: “We are not quite there yet. This was always going to be an extremely difficult, extremely complex negotiation, but we are almost within touching distance now.

“But, as the prime minister has said, it can't be a deal at any price. It has got to be one that works in terms of feeling we can deliver on the referendum result and that is why there is a measure of caution.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in