WATCH: Top Tory Rory Stewart forced to apologise for making up stat about public backing Brexit deal
Minister Rory Stewart has been forced to apologise after he invented a statistic about the level of public support for the Brexit deal.
The Prisons Minister, who has been touring the airwaves trying to drum up support for his embattled boss Theresa May's agreement with the EU claimed that 80% of the public now supported plan.
But he was forced into a humiliating climbdown when challenged on the figure.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5, Mr Stewart – who is rumoured to be in line for a senior Cabinet role – said he believed Mrs May’s deal would find support in parliament for “the reason that 80% of the British public support this deal”.
But pressed by presenter Emma Barnett - he admitted he had “produced the number”.
“Ok let me go back on that," he said.
"My sense is - sorry let me get the language right on that. My sense is that if we have the opportunity to explain this then the vast majority of the British public would support this deal.
“I am producing a number to try and illustrate what I believe which is that the people who are rejecting this are 10% on either fringe.
"But obviously this is not coming from an opinion poll. I am just trying to express the basic fact that this is a country that is in danger of being divided. We are in danger of almost a proto-civil war."
He added: “I apologise for that, but I do believe, and I totally apologise for that, and I take that back. But I totally believe that if we are given an opportunity to calmly explain this deal that many of the people who are currently worried about it will be reassured.”
Mr Stewart also took aim at the Brexiteers in his own party, warning they were playing an “extremely dangerous” game by threatening to vote down the deal in the Commons.
He added: “What they are basically doing is radically increasing the risks of us crashing out with no plan and no deal, and that would be catastrophic for our economy and that would create huge divisions within British society."
His defence of the deal comes in the wake of six government resignations, with both Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey resigning in opposition to the deal.