Boris Johnson has said that the Brexit deal he struck with Brussels “busts” the UK out of the Northern Ireland backstop agreed by his predecessor Theresa May as he appeals for cross-party support for the agreement.
As the Prime Minister faced a crunch Commons vote on the last-minute deal on Saturday, he urged MPs on all sides to support it.
The comments came as the pivotal Parliamentary showdown appeared to be on a knife-edge.
Calling for support for the deal, Mr Johnson told ITV News: “It busts out of [the] backstop, the previous problem with the deal, the previous deal that kept us locked in the customs union and the single market so, it’s a vast, vast, vast step forward.
“And what it also does, which is good, is it creates a period, a transition period from the end of October, end of this month, there’s a period of standstill giving certainty to business and at the end of that it is perfectly correct that we will move to the new arrangements.”
Mr Johnson insisted the agreement did not signal a “race to the bottom”.
He said: “There’s some good language in the level playing field stuff, in the Political Declaration about this country’s ambitions on the environment and on social protection you know we’re world leaders in this stuff, there are ways in which we want to go further than the EU.
“Under the freedoms that we will win it will be possible for instance for the UK to ban the export of live animals, which has caused offence over many years in this country and we can do all things differently to a higher standard and our aspirations to high levels of protection will be enshrined in the Political Declaration.”
Pressed on whether he could rally MPs to back his Brexit deal, Mr Johnson said: “I think there is a very clear case for all of us to get this done and that is because, I don’t know what you feel, but I sense from my own constituents in Uxbridge, and across the country people want us to deliver now and parliamentarians whether they’re Labour, Lib Dems, Plaid, Scottish nationalists we all want to, or DUP we all want to move on.”
Asked whether Saturday’s vote was the biggest thing he has done professionally, the PM said: “Well I wouldn’t deny that, I think it’s a very big moment for our country.
“But also its a big moment for our democracy and parliamentarians because I do think we have a choice, which is we have to consider how long we can delay and seem to frustrate what was a pretty clear democratic expression of the will of the people and I think that it would be a great and a fine thing if we could get it done and come together tomorrow.”
Mr Johnson told the BBC: “There’s no better outcome than the one I’m advocating tomorrow.”
The PM said he wanted the country to move on from Brexit.
“This has been a long, exhausting and quite divisive business, Brexit.
“I hope that people will think well, you know, what’s the balance, what do our constituents really want? Do they want us to keep going with this argument, do they want more division and delay?”
Sir Oliver Letwin, the former Tory Cabinet minister who now sits as an independent, has thrown the so-called “super Saturday” session of Parliament into new territory by tabling a motion allowing for amendments to Government proposals.
The MP has put forward an amendment that, if accepted by the Speaker and approved by MPs, would withhold approval of the deal unless and until implementing legislation has passed.
Sir Oliver explained his move, stating: “In short, my aim is to ensure that Boris’s deal succeeds, but that we have an insurance policy which prevents the UK from crashing out on 31 October by mistake if something goes wrong during the passage of the implementing legislation.”
The comments came as Emmanuel Macron turned up the pressure on MPs to back Mr Johnson’s new Brexit deal by raising doubts that any further delay will be granted.
Just a day before the vote, the French president said that the EU would not grant a further delay to Article 50 unless there are “some major changes”.
His threat added to one from European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, however reports have suggested Germany’s Angela Merkel believes a delay is inevitable if MPs reject the agreement on Saturday.
With no Commons majority and the DUP dismissing his plan, the PM must appeal for support from the Tory rebels he expelled and Labour MPs wanting to avoid a deal-less departure.