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May to provide clearer language on Brexit backstop, says Hunt

May to provide clearer language on Brexit backstop, says Hunt

Theresa May will present MPs with new “clearer language” on the nature of the backstop agreement, Jeremy Hunt has claimed, as the prime minister held telephone talks with German chancellor and other EU leaders. A German government source confirmed Angela Merkel had spoken with May on Christmas Eve and again on Wednesday, as part of…

Theresa May will present MPs with new “clearer language” on the nature of the backstop agreement, Jeremy Hunt has claimed, as the prime minister held telephone talks with German chancellor and other EU leaders.

A German government source confirmed Angela Merkel had spoken with May on Christmas Eve and again on Wednesday, as part of a raft of calls the British PM has made to EU leaders over the festive period as she attempts to guide her Brexit deal through the Commons.

Downing Street remained tight-lipped about the details of the calls and has not revealed the list of EU leaders, but a No 10 source said May had more calls lined up this week. Berlin said it could not comment on the private conversation.

MPs are due to restart the debate on May’s withdrawal agreement after they return to parliament on Monday.

May has said she is seeking further legal reassurances from EU leaders about the permanence of the backstop agreement, which would keep the whole UK in a single customs territory with the EU until both sides agree on an alternative solution to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland.

The foreign secretary, who is in Singapore, said May would eventually get her Brexit deal approved. “I think that she will find a way to get this deal through parliament and I know that is what the British people would want,” he told an audience Q&A.

Hunt, who has attempted to burnish his pro-Brexit credentials in recent weeks, warned a no-deal outcome could cause disruption for a prolonged period. “That is not something any government should wish on its people,” he said.

Speaking later to the BBC, Hunt reiterated May’s desire to find a solution that would have legal force. “She has also been very straightforward about this – the EU has agreed the backstop is temporary and that’s a word they have agreed,” Hunt said.

“So what we’re saying, very simply, is we’re not asking for anything new but we are asking you to define what temporary means so we can have confidence we’re not going to be trapped in the customs union for ever against the wishes of the British people.”

Hunt said there was a need to unite leavers and remainers but said that should not be via a second referendum, saying a fresh poll would be a “devastating blow to democracy”.

Instead, he said the deal had to be “a friendly separation where we have the closest possible trade relationship, the closest possible diplomatic relationship with our European friends and neighbours, because I think that is the biggest fear of the remainers”.

He added: “We need to find a way of making sure that the Brexit that 48% are afraid of isn’t the Brexit that we end up with and I am confident we can succeed.”

Hunt had initially floated the idea of a second referendum, which he now opposes, days after the 2016 result, saying the deal needed “democratic endorsement in some form”.

The Labour MP Virendra Sharma, a supporter of the pro-remain Best for Britain campaign, said: “Whilst he seems to have decided it’s no longer advantageous for his personal leadership prospects to back a people’s vote, the arguments for putting this decision back in the hands of the people have grown, as the consequences of the political uncertainty come home to roost and our parliament remains in deadlock.”

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