The UK may not be able to reach a Brexit deal with the European Union because controversial issues are still blocking an agreement, the trade minister Liam Fox has admitted.
“We are seeing a difficult end to the negotiation,” Mr Fox told Sky News on Saturday morning.
He said that if the UK failed to get its way over outstanding issues such as the Northern Ireland border, “we may not be able to reach an agreement with the European Union.”
Agreeing a backstop, a contingency plan designed to keep an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland until the UK and EU settle their future relationship, remains the key obstacle in the way of a wider withdrawal deal between the two sides.
Pressed on whether he would resign if any backstop did not have a time limit and no way to end the arrangement, leaving the UK bound by EU rules, Mr Fox said: “I’m not going to play this media game on who’s going to resign.”
Mr Fox also admitted that the UK had not even started to discuss the details of its future trade agreement with Europe.
It comes as Theresa May’s Brexit plans are under intense pressure following a bombshell ministerial resignation from Boris Johnson’s brother Jo Johnson.
Mr Johnson resigned as transport minister on Friday and demanded a second referendum on the final deal.
Pressed on the BBC’s Today programme whether other ministerial resignations were coming over Brexit, Mr Johnson said: “It’s for each MP to come to his or her own view.
“This is one of the most momentous questions we will ever face in our political careers.
“And everybody is thinking very hard about it.”
He also said: “My priority is really just to do my bit as a now backbench MP to try and encourage the country to pause and reflect before we do something that is irrevocably stupid.”
Mr Johnson insisted that his resignation was not an attempt to oust Theresa May as Prime Minister and that it was be an “absolute travesty” if the public were not asked if they “actually do want to exit the EU on this extraordinarily hopeless basis.”
Ex-first secretary of state Damian Green attacked Mr Johnson’s calls for a second Brexit vote: “My basic disagreement with Jo is about the need for a second referendum. I think a second referendum would be divisive, but it wouldn’t be decisive.
“All the evidence is that the country is still, more or less, split down the middle.”
Mr Johnson’s resignation saw pro-EU and arch-Brexiteers in the Conservative Party unite to attack the Prime Minister’s stance.
Calling for a second referendum to be held on Brexit, Mr Johnson denounced the choice between her deal or no-deal as a “failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis” that had left Britain facing “vassalage” or “chaos”.
His dramatic resignation, delivered as Mrs May travelled to France to take part in Armistice centennial commemorations, sparked speculation that the PM could face further Cabinet departures in the coming days.
Tory MP Anna Soubry, a vociferous Remain campaigner, said she had “huge respect” for Mr Johnson, telling The Guardian: “Jo isn’t the only minister who shares these views and I hope others will follow his lead.”
Ahead of a conference of the Eurosceptic Bruges Group on Saturday, Tory MP Mark Francois also said further ministerial resignations could not be ruled out.
He told the BBC: “When we get the final deal, and it feels like that’s not very far away, Cabinet ministers will have to look into their hearts and see whether or not they feel they can support it.
“And, if they can’t, because they believe it’s a bad deal for the country, then, honourably, they would have to resign.”
Downing Street spokesman said the referendum “was the biggest democratic exercise in this country’s history”.
“We will not under any circumstances have a second referendum,” a spokesman said.
“The Prime Minister thanks Jo Johnson for his work in Government.”
Amid the Tory infighting, DUP leader Arlene Foster made it clear her party would vote against the PM’s current proposals, warning such an agreement would leave the UK “handcuffed” to the EU with a sea border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain.
Writing in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph, she said she had raised DUP concerns with Mrs May, but the PM’s response failed to allay their fears.
“If what is outlined in the reply is the type of deal the Prime Minister intends to conclude, then the DUP could not support a deal which annexes Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom,” she wrote.
“The ‘new’ idea of a UK customs arrangement does not appear to be a genuinely UK-wide offer but a GB offer and an NI offer badged as one – Northern Ireland in THE EU customs territory and GB in A customs union.
“The real intent is not to solve any land border issues in Ireland but to handcuff the UK to the EU, with the EU holding the keys. The United Kingdom would be trapped.”
Without mentioning the Prime Minister, she added: “We are ready to stand with those in Cabinet and in Parliament to work for a better deal. One which works for the whole United Kingdom.”
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