Theresa May risks a fresh showdown with Eurosceptic Tories after a Cabinet minister suggested the Prime Minister may not reopen her Brexit deal to make changes to the controversial Irish backstop.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright implied concerns around the insurance policy, which aims to prevent a hard border in Ireland, could be addressed without changing the Withdrawal Agreement text.

He insisted the “objective” mattered more than the “mechanism”. However. such a move risks causing a furious backlash among Tory Brexiters.


Leading figures such as Boris Johnson have previously argued plans for an indefinite backstop must be removed from the Withdrawal Agreement.

It comes hours after Mrs May issued a desperate plea to Conservative MPs to unite and deliver on Brexit, urging her party to “move beyond what divides us” and sacrifice “personal preferences” for the national interest.

In a letter to all 317 Tory MPs after her Brexit plans suffered a humiliating Commons defeat on Valentine’s Day, she wrote: “History will judge us all for the parts we have played in this process.”

Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Wright, the former attorney general, was repeatedly pressed on whether it was still the Government’s position that changes to the backstop would require reopening the Withdrawal Agreement.

He said: “I think what’s obvious is that Parliament, and I think probably people well beyond Parliament, are concerned about the potential indefinite nature of the backstop – that’s what we’ve got to do something about.

"If this is the only way of doing it then that’s the way we will pursue. If there are other ways of doing it that are just as effective that perhaps we haven’t yet explored then we will do that too.

“I don’t think it’s the mechanism that matters, it’s the objective: if you can get to a place where the potential longevity of the backstop, the potential that the backstop lasts forever can be adequately dealt with, that’s what we’re all seeking to do.”

Mr Johnson, a prominent Brexiter, previously insisted: “We can’t have some codicil or letter or joint declaration. We need to go back into the text of the treaty and solve the problem.”

It came as the Sunday Times reported that former Brexit minister Steve Baker told colleagues Mrs May’s Brexit negotiations with Brussels were a “complete waste of time”.

In leaked messages, he suggested the Prime Minister and EU negotiators were “working together to run down the clock to force [May’s] deal through”.

He said the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tories had to “insist” the backstop was removed from the Brexit deal.

In her letter, Mrs May said she would return to Brussels for further talks with European Commission president JeanClaude Juncker, as well as speaking to the leaders of every EU member state over the coming days.

She said: “I do not underestimate how deeply or how sincerely colleagues hold the views which they do on this important issue – or that we are all motivated by a common desire to do what is best for our country, even if we disagree on the means of doing so.

“But I believe that a failure to make the compromises necessary to reach and take through Parliament a Withdrawal Agreement which delivers on the result of the referendum will let down the people who sent us to represent them and risk the bright future that they all deserve.”

She reiterated that without a Withdrawal Agreement the UK risks a “combination forming in Parliament that will stop Brexit altogether, whatever the long-term consequences for trust in our democracy”.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will meet the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier today. Meanwhile, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will set out what changes the Government believes would address concerns over the Irish backstop in a speech tomorrow.

Brexiters fear the backstop would see the UK tied to EU rules indefinitely. Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood urged the Government to allow a free vote on ruling out a no-deal Brexit at the end of the month if Mrs May cannot get her deal through the Commons.

He told the BBC: “There are many ministers, me being one of them, that need to see no-deal removed from the table.”

Elsewhere, shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC that Labour would “look at” a proposal put forward by backbenchers Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson to back a second Brexit referendum.

He said: “I met Peter and Phil last week, and what they’re saying is if Parliament does agree some form of deal, why not have a confirmation referendum after that? We’ll look at that in the debate over the next week.”

It came as Brexit was partly blamed for the collapse of British Midland Regional Limited, which operated as flybmi.

Hundreds of passengers faced cancelled flights after the firm, which employed 376 people in the UK, Germany, Sweden and Belgium, announced it was filing for administration.