Back me or kill off Brexit hopes, embattled Theresa May tells warring Tories

Posted On: 
15th July 2018

Theresa May has urged her warring party to unite behind her Brexit plan or risk scuppering the entire process.

The under-fire Prime Minister urged Brexiteers to "keep our eyes on the prize" - as two former ministers two into her plan for leaving the European Union
Credit: 
PA

The Prime Minister called on Brexiteers to keep their "eyes on the prize" or "risk ending up with no Brexit at all" - and accused her critics of failing to present "a workable alternative".

Her plea came as former Brexit Secretary David Davis - who quit the Cabinet along with fellow Brexiteer Boris Johnson this week - accused Downing Street of being "astonishingly dishonest", and ex-minister Steve Baker said Number 10 had launched a "cloak and dagger" plot to foil Brexit.

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Writing in the Mail on Sunday, however, Mrs May insisted the Government's plan - which includes a common rulebook with the EU on goods to ease trade and avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland - would deliver on her Brexit promises.

"Our Brexit deal for Britain seizes the moment to deliver the democratic decision of the British people and secure a bright new future for our country outside the European Union," she said.

The Prime Minister added: "This is the scale of the opportunity before us and my message to the country this weekend is simple: we need to keep our eyes on the prize.

"If we don’t, we risk ending up with no Brexit at all."

Directly confronting her Brexiteer critics - who are threatening to kill off her plan in the Commons this week - Mrs May urged backbenchers to be "practical and pragmatic", and "come together" to back the deal.

While Mrs May acknowledged that MPs had "concerns" about both her common rule book proposal and plans to maintain close customs ties with Brussels in a UK-EU free trade area, she warned that Brexit's legacy could not be a "hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland that unpicks the historic Belfast Agreement".

"It cannot be the breaking up of our precious United Kingdom with a border down the Irish Sea," she added. "And it cannot be the destruction of integrated supply chains and just-in-time processes on which jobs and livelihoods depend."

The Prime Minister meanwhile claimed critics of her proposal had yet to come up with "a workable alternative future trading arrangement", and warned MPs that backing the string of Trade Bill amendments aimed at derailing her plan upped the chances of "a damaging and disorderly Brexit".

DAVIS: UK HAS 'BLINKED'

But Mrs May's call for unity came as David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, denounced Downing Street for mounting a "crude pressure play" against Eurosceptics in the Cabinet to back her deal, and said the Government had already "blinked" in negotiations with the EU.

Writing in The Sunday Times, the former Cabinet heavyweight said the deal signed off by ministers earlier this month at Chequers would "make concessions to the EU that were so fundamental they risked undermining the whole Brexit process".

He added: "What is more, it is likely that the EU, having achieved a break in the UK’s position, will simply pocket the concessions and ask for more. For that reason alone this is a very bad decision."

And he branded it "an astonishingly dishonest claim" to suggest Brexiteers had no workable alternative to the Chequers deal, pointing out that his own department had been working on a Brexit white paper that had been "painstakingly" agreed with the rest of Whitehall.

The view was echoed by Steve Baker, who quit as a Brexit minister alongside Mr Davis, and told The Sunday Telegraph that the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) had ended up as a "Potemkin structure to [distract from] what the Cabinet Office Europe unit was doing for the Prime Minister".

In a direct warning to Mrs May, the ex-minister adds: "At the moment I think that if we spoil and wreck Brexit, which Chequers does, then we will get Jeremy Corbyn. That would be a cataclysm."

'LAST CHANCE' FOR BORIS

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reports that Brexiteer Cabinet ministers Esther McVey and Penny Mordaunt are still weighing up resigning over the Chequers deal, while Boris Johnson is being urged to use a Commons intervention this week to issue a rallying cry against Mrs May.

"If Boris doesn’t go for it, he will never have another chance," a source told the paper.

Brexiteers are reported to have amassed 40 letters of no confidence in Mrs May - just eight shy of the total that would be needed to trigger a vote on her leadership.