Theresa May in desperate plea for Tory unity as Brexit infighting rages
Theresa May has called on her warring Tory party to unite behind her or be "overwhelmed" by the challenge of Brexit.
After a day of open warfare on the Tory benches ahead of this week's crucial Chequers Brexit summit, the Prime Minister begged her troops to show "discipline" and warned that the stakes were "higher than we have ever known in our political lifetimes".
Mrs May told the party's annual summer fundraiser in West London: "We each have a choice to make. Will we come together and stand together as a party, as a government and as a country?
"Will we find the boldness, the courage and the discipline to unite as one for the good of our nation and fellow citizens?
"Or will we be divided and allow the scale of the challenge, the complexity of the questions to overwhelm us?"
The emotional plea, first reported by The Sun, came after a day of high drama in which ministers broke ranks to directly criticise arch-Brexiteer backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg over a threat to bring down the Government.
The MP - who chairs the powerful European Research Group of eurosceptic Conservatives - said he and colleagues would be prepared to vote against any deal with Brussels which preserves elements of the EU's customs union or single market and sees Britain continue to fall under the jurisdiction of the European Court.
That sparked a furious backlash from several of his Tory colleagues, including Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan, who urged Mr Rees-Mogg to "pipe down" and stop "threatening" the Prime Minister.
But Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson pointedly refused to condemn Mr Rees-Mogg, saying it was "vital that all MPs are able to air their views on Brexit" and praising him as "a principled and dedicated MP who wants the best for our country".
HAGUE BLASTS 'NAKED MANOEUVERING'
In a bid to shore up Mrs May's support, former Conservative leader Lord Hague today warned that the "vast sensible middle" of the Tory party was being let down by colleagues "threatening to bring the house down every couple of weeks".
Writing in the Telegraph, he warned that party infighting over future trading ties with Brussels was "now worse than any of the options causing it", and he hit out at "naked manoeuvring to become the next leader".
The Tory grandee said: "If Conservatives don’t look like they know how to deliver on the result of the referendum, public enthusiasm will be eroded and the growing pressure in the Labour Party to support a second referendum will intensify.
"That way lies the deepest and most bitter national division for generations and it is the responsibility of a governing party to avoid it."
The growing splits in the Conservative Party come ahead of a crucial Cabinet summit on Friday, in which Mrs May will table a new option for the UK's future customs ties with the EU - after failing to secure backing for the previous two.
The new plan risks sparking fresh fury from Brexiteers, however, with Whitehall sources telling the Times today that the new proposal would be a "rebranding" of the scrapped customs partnership plan, changing "a comma here and a phrase there".
That model - which would see Britain continue to collect customs dues on behalf of Brussels - was roundly rejected by Brexit-backing Conservatives, and a briefing on it was reportedly ripped up by Environment Secretary Michael Gove in front of stunned officials last week.
But business group the British Chambers of Commerce today warned that firms' patience with the Government's handling of Brexit was now at "breaking point".
BCC chief Adam Marshall said it was now "abundantly clear" that key points about Britain's future relationship with Brussels remained unaddressed, and he urged ministers to put an end to their "squabbling".