Jacob Rees-Mogg has issued an appeal to Brexiteers to trust Boris Johnson as negotiations on a deal with Brussels enter a critical stage.
The Leader of the Commons, who was a thorn in the side of Theresa May over Brexit, before joining Mr Johnson’s administration, warned compromise was inevitable if there was to be an agreement.
He even hinted he may even have to “eat my words” and support a plan close to Mrs May’s rejected agreement – which he previously described as “completely cretinous” saying it would reduce Britain to a “vassal state”.
Mr Rees-Mogg – who previously led the strongly pro-Brexit European Research Group – insisted however Leave supporters could have confidence Mr Johnson would not give too much ground to Brussels in order to get a deal.
“I think that he is somebody who even the arch Eurosceptics, even a member of the Brexit Party, can trust and have confidence in,” he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.
His comments will be seen as a sign of nervousness that hardline Tory Brexiteers could scupper any agreement Mr Johnson is able to reach, just as they thwarted his predecessor.
In a conference call with Cabinet ministers to brief them on the negotiations, Mr Johnson said that while he could see a "pathway" to a deal there was still a "significant amount of work" to be done.
"The Prime Minister said there was a way forward for a deal that could secure all our interests, respect the Good Friday Agreement, get rid of the backstop and get Brexit done by October 31," a No 10 spokesperson said.
- ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand says that the Prime Minister did not brief the Cabinet on anything new following Brexit negotiations with the EU
The European Commission agreed with Mr Johnson that "constructive technical-level" talks had been held, but there was still a "lot of work" to be done to reach a Brexit agreement.
In a statement, the commission said the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier had briefed the ambassadors of the remaining EU 27 on the talks and would be speaking to the European Parliament's steering group.
"A lot of work remains to be done.
"Discussions at technical level will continue tomorrow," the statement said.
It comes after the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds fired a warning shot to ministers that any return to Mrs May’s plan to resolve the issue of the Irish border would not be acceptable to his party.
Reports from Brussels suggested the prime minister had sought to revive a proposal by Mrs May for Northern Ireland to remain politically in a customs union with the EU, but it would be administered by the UK.
The plan would avoid the need for customs controls on the island of Ireland – something the EU is adamantly opposed to.
However, Mr Dodds – whose party’s votes may be essential if a deal is to get through Parliament – told the Italian La Repubblica newspaper that Northern Ireland “must stay in a full UK customs union, full stop”.
“It cannot work because Northern Ireland has to remain fully part of the UK customs union,” he said.
Mr Rees-Mogg refused to be drawn on the detail of what was being discussed in the Belgian capital.
“Naturally in the middle of a negotiation these matters are extremely sensitive as everyone is compromising to some degree and therefore to give negotiations the best chance of succeeding, it is best to be discreet about them,” he said.
But pressed on whether it could be close to Mrs May’s plan, he said: “We’ll have to find out in a day or two whether I’ll have to eat my words or not – time will tell.”
He added: “There’s a line from Churchill saying that he often had to eat his words and he found it to be a very nourishing diet – and that is something that happens in politics.”
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel said security measures were being stepped up in preparedness for a possible no-deal, but denied they were driven by fears of an upsurge in terrorism by dissident Irish republicans.
She acknowledged however they were “conscious” of the situation in Northern Ireland and said ministers were working on “alternative arrangements” for intelligence and data sharing.
“When it comes to security tools and security co-operation there are many measures that are being put in place right now in preparedness for no-deal,” she told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“Specifically to Northern Ireland, we are conscious and we are working with all organisations, agencies, to ensure that we remain safe.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the party would decide how to respond once they had seen any deal Mr Johnson was able to bring back from Brussels.
However, he urged “caution” on any MPs considering backing an agreement if it were put to a confirmatory referendum.
“I think many in Parliament, not necessarily Labour MPs but others might be more inclined to support it even if they don’t really agree with the deal. But I would caution them,” he told Sophy Ridge on Sunday.