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Theresa May sends ministers round the country to push Brexit deal

Theresa May will send about 30 ministers across the UK on Friday in a final push to sell her Brexit deal ahead of next week’s crucial Commons vote.

Senior Cabinet ministers including Chancellor Philip Hammond and Health Secretary Matt Hancock are among those who will be deployed to local communities to garner support for Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

Mr Hammond will visit a Chertsey school, while Mr Hancock will head to a hospital in Portsmouth where he will announce almost £1 billion of funding for health facilities across England.

Theresa May will send out around 30 ministers across the UK in a final push ahead of next week’s vote (Picture: PA)

Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, Mrs May’s de facto deputy, will meet small business leaders in Belfast and Scotland Secretary David Mundell will speak to employers in Glasgow.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, meanwhile, will visit engineering companies in Peterborough and the East Midlands.

Embargoed to 001 Friday December 07 A person holds a pile of Energizer LR44/A76 Alkaline 1.5v batteries in their hand as families are being urged to be aware of the danger of button batteries following the death of a child who had swallowed one. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday December 6, 2018. See PA story HEALTH Batteries. Photo credit should read: Andrew Matthews/PA WireChild died after swallowing tiny battery found in toys, remote controls and key fobs

Mrs May said: ‘We have delivered a deal that honours the vote of the British people.

‘I’ve been speaking to factory workers in Scotland, farmers in Wales and people right across the country, answering their questions about the deal and our future.

‘Overwhelmingly, the message I’ve heard is that people want us to get on with it.

Senior Cabinet ministers including Chancellor Philip Hammond is among those who will be deployed to local communities (Picture: Reuters)

‘And that’s why it’s important that ministers are out speaking with communities across the UK today about how the deal works for them.’

It remains to be seen whether sending ministers out goes far enough to win over enough Tory Brexiteers to get the deal through the Commons.

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DUP leader Arlene Foster, whose party opposes Mrs May’s deal, warned that the amendment would not be enough, tweeting: ‘Domestic legislative tinkering won’t cut it.

‘The legally binding international Withdrawal Treaty would remain fundamentally flawed as evidenced by the Attorney General’s legal advice.’

The backstop, intended to prevent the return of a hard border in Northern Ireland, is highly controversial as Brexiteer MPs claim it traps the UK into obeying rules set by Brussels without a say over them.

DUP leader Arlene Foster warned that the amendment would not be enough, tweeting: ‘Domestic legislative tinkering won’t cut it (Picture: PA)

The Government says it aims to conclude a comprehensive trade deal with the EU before a backstop arrangement would be needed.

Under the Withdrawal Agreement, the backstop would be introduced if a trade deal had not been agreed by both sides by the time the transition period ends in December 2020.

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However, the transition period could be extended for a maximum of two more years.

The amendment would add provisions for the Commons to ‘approve the Government’s proposed approach, including whether or not an extension to the implementation period should be pursued; and parliamentary approval of the commencement of the powers implementing the Northern Ireland backstop’.

Mr Graham, who sits on the Exiting the EU Committee, told the Press Association it had been clear for some time the backstop ‘was and remains the thing that gives colleagues the most concern’.

He said: ‘What we are trying to achieve is something that gets a lot of support from colleagues and that the Government, we hope, will take forward because it will make a real difference to the vote.’

Earlier on Thursday, ITV had joined the BBC in cancelling plans to broadcast a televised Brexit debate between the Prime Minister and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, after Labour and the Conservatives failed to agree which of the rival offers to accept.

Both channels had wanted to host the live programme on Sunday evening, two days before the vote, but it now seems unlikely a head-to-head will go ahead.

Mrs May faced calls to postpone Tuesday’s vote, with senior Conservative MP Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, saying he would welcome the vote being deferred if no solution could be found to differences within the party over the backstop.

Sir Graham told BBC Two’s Newsnight: ‘I think the most important thing is to have clarity about how we might remove ourselves from a backstop … if we were to enter into one in the future.

‘It’s having the answer to that question of substance that is most important, not the timing, so if that question can be answered in the course of the next few days then all well and good.

‘If it can’t, then I certainly would welcome the vote being deferred until such time as we can answer that question.’

Chief whip Julian Smith acknowledged he faces an ‘uphill challenge’ to persuade MPs to back Mrs May’s deal, but insisted ‘it’s all to play for’.

Speaking to ITV News, Mr Smith insisted there was no ‘Plan B’ ready to be unveiled if the PM’s proposals are voted down.

And former prime minister Tony Blair, asked at a Westminster lunch if Mrs May should pull the December 11 vote, said: ‘Personally, I don’t see what the point is in going down to a huge defeat.’

Number 10 sought to play down the Prime Minister’s meeting with a number of Cabinet ministers on Thursday afternoon.

Downing Street said there was not a full Cabinet meeting and ‘nothing to get excited about’.

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