Fresh blow for Theresa May as former minister says 'at least 40' Tory MPs will vote against her Brexit deal
Theresa May’s Chequer’s plan has been struck with a fresh blow after a former minister said that “at least 40” Tory MPs would vote against it.
Steve Baker, a leading member of the Brexiteer European Research Group, said they would not be willing to support a "half-in, half-out Brexit" arrangement.
However, the number of potential rebels is way down on the 80 Mr Baker previously forecast.
Theresa May hopes to agree a Brexit deal with the EU later in the autumn before putting it to a Commons vote before Christmas.
Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Mr Baker - who resigned as Brexit minister in protest at the strategy agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers in July - said he expected the Government to "whip this vote extremely hard" in an attempt to quel the rebellion.
But he added: "What I would say is that the whips would be doing incredibly well if they were to halve the numbers and my estimate is there are at least 40 colleagues who are not going to accept a half-in, half-out Chequers deal, or indeed a backstop that leaves us in the internal market and the customs union.”
The warning comes ahead of a crunch Brussels summit next Wednesday where the Prime Minister will hope to seal a deal with fellow EU leaders on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal.
Downing Street yesterday batted away suggestions that a breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations was imminent, despite claims from EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker that an agreement was "not that far" away.
Mr Baker said that he would wait to see the detail of the final agreement, but added that any “backstop” deal to avoid a hard Irish border which left the UK in the EU's internal market would be “unacceptable”.
He said: “We are awaiting the detail of what we are going to be asked to vote for, and of course that is a matter of great interest for everybody.
“But I don’t doubt that every possible technique is going to be used to sow doubt in colleague’s minds and encourage them to vote with the Government, but in the end the EU is not entitled to split the UK, and it is not entitled to constrain how we regulate our economy and govern ourselves after we leave.
“And if the UK faces either possibility, then we must in the end be willing to say that it is a bad deal. No deal is better that a bad deal, and it has been said many times, and therefore we would need to be unafraid to go forward without an agreement.”
Mr Baker added: “We need to see the legal text of the withdrawal agreement, and in particular we need to see exactly what kind of backstop the Government is entering into, because if the backstop leaves the whole of the UK in the internal market of the EU together with the customs union indefinitely because then it seems likely that the trigger to leave might be handed to the EU.
“Well if that were to be the backstop then that would so obviously be unacceptable because that would leave us in a worse position than EU membership."