Former Brexit minister says Tories face ‘catastrophic split’ unless Theresa May dumps Chequers plan
A former Brexit minister has said the Conservatives are heading for a "catastrophic split" unless Theresa May dumps her Chequers plan.
Steve Baker, who quit his DExEU over the Prime Minister's Brexit strategy, said up to 80 Tory MPs could vote against it in the Commons.
"If we come out of conference with her hoping to get Chequers through on the back of Labour votes, I think the EU negotiators would probably understand that if that were done, the Tory Party would suffer the catastrophic split which thus far we have managed to avoid”, he told the Press Association.
He added: "We are reaching the point now where it is extremely difficult to see how we can rescue the Conservative Party from a catastrophic split if the Chequers proposals are carried forward.
"It is absolutely no pleasure whatsoever to me to acknowledge that, but I look at the mood of colleagues and the mood of the Conservative Party in the country and I am gravely concerned for the future of our party."
Mr Baker, a senior figure in the European Research Group of Tory Brexiteers, said that the group would be bringing its own proposals to Conservative conference which urged the Prime Minister to seek a Canada-style free trade deal with the EU.
“It is absolutely no pleasure whatsoever to me to acknowledge that, but I look at the mood of colleagues and the mood of the Conservative Party in the country and I am gravely concerned for the future of our party”, he said.
“I am gravely concerned because I recognise that the Labour opposition represents a severe danger to our security and our prosperity.”
But Mr Baker insisted that he was not advocating a change in leadership, saying that Tory MPs “do not want to be in a position of conflict with our own Prime Minister” and that they would give her “absolutely every support”
He added: “Time is running awfully short for anyone who thinks a leadership contest and a general election is a good idea.”
It comes as Trade Secretary Liam Fox warned that leaving the EU would not guarantee a “rosy” economic future for the UK, telling fellow Brexiteers that they should be beware of “irrational positivity.”
In an interview for The Truth Trade podcast, Mr Fox said: “We have got to be rational and say that everything will not be wonderful because we are leaving the European Union.
“We have to say there are great opportunities that come from Brexit but that is not a guarantee that everything is going to be rosy on the other side.
He added: “Let’s not have an irrational positivity, but look at the opportunities and look in a balanced way at the pluses we can control. We will be subjected to the same global pressures as before.”