Boris Johnson has urged colleagues to vote against the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan and instead push for no-deal “with zeal and enthusiasm”.
The former foreign secretary, in a five-minute speech from the backbenches, told MPs the Irish backstop should be scrapped and an alternative solution found with “a spirit of optimism and determination”.
Mr Johnson also warned against extending Article 50, saying the British public would perceive a “plot by the deep state to kill Brexit”.
He said: “I fear that if we vote for this deal we will be blatantly negating many of the potential benefits of Brexit because, as a result of the backstop trap, we will be faced with an unthinkable choice – sacrifice Northern Ireland, as we have just heard, or stay locked in the customs union and regulatory alignment so we can’t do free trade deals.”
If Mrs May’s deal is defeated on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said ministers should bring forward proposals which would include: “Scrapping the backstop, agreeing an implementation period in which to negotiate a zero-tariff zero-quota free trade deal, holding back half the £39 billion at least until such a trade deal is concluded.
“And pledging what is obvious to all – that there is no plan, intention or need for a hard border in Northern Ireland.
“I’m sure that whatever the bureaucratic, technical, logistical difficulties there may be… they can be overcome with a spirit of optimism and determination.”
Mr Johnson ruled out all options other than no-deal Brexit, and claimed any delay would be seen as a conspiracy, he said: “The answer is not to have a second referendum, and the answer is not to attempt to clamber back into the EU, because all this while it has been evolving in an ever more federalist direction.
“We can’t go for the Norway option for reasons that have been extensively chewed over in this House – we would end up taking even more rules from Brussels.
“I don’t think we can seriously contemplate delaying Article 50 because after two-and-a-half years of procrastination the public would accuse us of deliberately setting out to frustrate their wishes and they would conclude there was some plot by the deep state to kill Brexit.”
Tory former Brexit minister Suella Braverman also issued a blistering attack on Mrs May’s deal, saying it “is not Brexit”.
She added: “This deal continues our subjugation to EU laws during the implementation period and the backstop whereby the UK will have no say whatsoever on those rules and regulations.
“After the backstop we have no guarantee whatsoever that the UK will be able to diverge, the jurisdiction of the ECJ will persist thereafter and our courts will not have the final say on many, many matters.”
Ms Braverman also hit out at what she described as a “diet of doom and pessimism” from the Government, and said MPs should reject the “surrender” of Mrs May’s deal or the “catastrophe” of no deal.
Tory former justice minister Dr Phillip Lee, who backed Remain, said he could not support the deal as “neither this Brexit nor any other practical form of it matches up to what was promised in 2016”.
He added: “If we’d gone out and said to the public vote for this deal, do we know for sure what the result would have been, are we sure what it would have been, really with this deal? I suspect our people would have been less than enthusiastic, in fact I suggest the response would have been up yours and rightly so.”
Tory Brexiteer Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) earlier hinted that he was considering voting for the deal to frustrate Remainers.
He said: “This deal is better than staying in the EU – we will be out of the Common Fisheries Policy, out of the Common Agricultural Policy, out of the relentless momentum for political integration.
“I’m very much aware that the events and the votes of last week present a danger to Brexit.
“I will have to consider very carefully over the next 24 hours whether I want to be in a division lobby where I will share a place with those who are there because their strategy is actually to prevent Brexit at all.”
Brexit-backing Conservative former minister Dame Cheryl Gillan also confirmed her support, she said: “I will support the Prime Minister in the meaningful vote as it appears to me to be the best option available of successfully delivering the next stage of Brexit.”
Tory former minister Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) said: “We stand now ready to deliver the expectations of the British people or to frustrate them.”
He added: “I say to all my colleagues, live up to what the people ask you to do, don’t support the deal tonight, but back Brexit and make sure we leave lock, stock and barrel.”