Former Brexit minister accuses Theresa May of trying to 'muddle through' to avoid Tory civil war

Posted On: 
30th January 2018

A former minister has accused Theresa May of "muddling through" on Brexit in an attempt to avoid a Tory civil war.

Lord Bridges was Brexit minister until last year
Credit: 
Parliament TV

In a devastating intervention, Lord Bridges said it was time for the Government to answer the "simple questions" on what kind of relationship it wants the UK to have with the EU.

His comments came as peers were given their first chance to debate the flagship EU Withdrawal Bill.

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They also came in the wake of the publication of government analysis showing that Britain's economy will take a hit regardless of what kind of deal the Government strikes with Brussels.

Lord Bridges, who was Brexit minister for a year until last June, said the Government must decide whether it wants to take back all parliamentary sovereignty after Brexit, or give up some of it in order to maintain access to the European market.

He said: "At this pivotal moment in our history we cannot, we must not, indulge in that very British habit of just muddling through.

"With under 300 working days until we leave the European Union, we need to know the Government's answers to these simple questions. They go to the heart of the matter, the powers of this parliament and parliamentary sovereignty.

"The Government must be honest with themselves and the public about the choices we face and then the Prime Minister and her Cabinet must make those choices.

"To govern is to choose and as we face the biggest challenge this country has faced since the Second World War, keeping every option open is no longer an option."

According to the EU analysis papers, a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU would lead to a 5% drop in expected economic growth in the 15 years after Brexit, while a 'no deal' outcome would see 8% knocked off GDP over the same period.  

Brexit minister Steve Baker said the damaging documents had been leaked to Buzzfeed in an attempt to "undermine" the Government.

In an apparent swipe at the Cabinet Office, Mr Baker added: "It has not been led by my department. It is not yet anywhere near approved by ministers. Even the ministerial team in my department has only just consulted on this paper in recent days, and we have made it clear that it requires significant further work."

The minister also said government economic forecasts were "always wrong", leading to a rebuke from the civil servants' union the FDA.

General secretary Dave Penman said: "How can civil servants in Mr Baker's department, who are working harder than ever before, now have confidence in a minister who stands at the despatch box and questions their professionalism?

"The real question, however, is how can a minister prepared to undermine the Government he serves retain the confidence of the Prime Minister?"