Michael Gove has insisted the Government can win the crucial Commons vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, despite scores of Tory MPs threatening to vote against it.
As MPs prepare to begin five days of debate ahead of the vote on December 11, the Environment Secretary acknowledged it would be “challenging” to get it through the House.
But while he accepted the deal was not “perfect”, he said the alternative was either “no deal or no Brexit”.
His warning came as shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said it was “inevitable” Labour would move a vote of no confidence in the Government if the deal was voted down.
Mr Gove, who was one of the leaders of the Leave campaign in the referendum in 2016, said he had reflected “long and hard” before deciding to back the plan.
But while there were aspects of the deal he found “uncomfortable”, he believed it was now the right way forward.
“I reflected long and hard about this deal but I concluded, like lots of people, that while it is imperfect it is the right thing to do,” he told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“One of the things that I hope people will have the chance to do over the next nine days is to recognise that we should not make the perfect the enemy of the good.
“We have got to recognise that if we don’t vote for this, the alternatives are no deal or no Brexit.
“I believe that we can win the argument and win the vote. I know it is challenging.”
Downing Street will hope that the intervention of Mr Gove – who turned down the job of Brexit Secretary following the resignation of Dominic Raab – will help persuade some Brexiteers to back the agreement.
The Environment Secretary said the most difficult element of the deal was the Northern Ireland “backstop”, intended to prevent the return of a hard border with the Republic.
Brexiteers have warned it could see the UK tied to EU customs arrangements for years with no exit mechanism, while negotiations continue with Brussels on a trade deal.
But Mr Gove insisted there was no incentive for the EU to prolong Britain’s stay in the backstop.
“The critical thing about the backstop is, however uncomfortable it is for the UK, it is more uncomfortable for the European Union,” he said.
“We will have tariff-free access to their markets without paying a penny. And, more than that, we will have control of our borders.
“While it does contain elements that for a Unionist or for a Brexiteer aren’t perfect, it also contains elements that for any European politician would allow them to see Britain having a competitive advantage over their own country and their own economy.
“This fundamentally works against the interests of the single market and against the interests of European nations.”
He dismissed a claim by French president Emmanuel Macron that the EU would be able to exploit the backstop to extract concessions from Britain over access to fisheries.
“He doesn’t have us over a barrel. We have got him over a barrel of herring and a barrel of mackerel. He wants that access to our waters. We can sit in the backstop and say ‘No, absolutely not’,” he said.
Sir Keir confirmed that if – as is widely expected at Westminster – the Government is defeated, Labour would seek to force a general election by moving a vote of no confidence.
“If the Prime Minister has lost a vote of that sort of significance then there has to be a question of confidence in the Government,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
“I think it’s inevitable that we will seek to move that – obviously it will depend on what actually happens in nine days, it will depend on what the response is – but if she’s lost a vote of this significance after two years of negotiation, then it is right that there should be a general election.”
With a two-thirds majority required for an election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis made clear ministers would resist any attempt to make them go to the country early.
“I don’t think anybody watching this programme, having had two general elections and a referendum in the last three years, is looking for a general election or will thank the Government for that,” he told the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.
Meanwhile, Mrs May is facing a battle on a second front with Labour threatening to combine with other parties – including the DUP – to force ministers to publish the legal advice given by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.
MPs across Parliament have angrily accused ministers of ignoring the will of the House after they said only that they would release a “full reasoned political statement” on the legal position.
It follows a binding Commons vote last month requiring the Government to lay before Parliament “any legal advice in full” – including that given by the Attorney General – relating to the Withdrawal Agreement.
Sir Keir said that they were ready to initiate contempt of Parliament proceedings unless the Government backs down.
“If they don’t produce it tomorrow then we will start contempt proceedings, this will be a collision course between the Government and Parliament,” he said.