EXCL Top Tory officials tell Theresa May they will accept two-month Brexit delay
Senior Tory officials are set to tell Theresa May they are willing to stomach a two-month delay to Brexit, PoliticsHome understands.
A motion set to be voted on by the chairs of Conservative party associations across the country says a deferral up to the European Parliament elections in May this year would be acceptable - but a hold up beyond that would be a “betrayal” of the EU referendum result.
It also warns pro-EU Conservative MPs that overturning the Brexit result or blocking a no-deal departure from Brussels would “damage democracy and our party for a generation”.
PoliticsHome understands the motion is highly likely to be voted through when it is put to the National Conservative Convention of local Tory chairs in late February.
It only has symbolic weight, but sources said it would show MPs who have been hoping to scupper Brexit “exactly where the party sits” and remind them they could be dumped by their local associations.
The Prime Minister has insisted the UK will leave on 29 March as planned, but Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom told the BBC earlier this month that the departure date could be informally delayed by a couple of weeks.
The motion proposed for the NCC meeting would go even further, allowing an extension up to the European Parliament elections - which are due between 23 May and 26 May - if parliament needs the time to process Brexit laws.
It reads: “The National Convention supports the commitments the Prime Minister has made to the country to honour the European Union referendum result of 2016, that having triggered Article 50 we will leave the European Union on the 29 March 2019.
“Another referendum, a delay beyond the European elections, taking ‘no deal’ off the table or not leaving at all would betray the 2016 People’s Vote and damage democracy and our party for a generation.”
A senior Tory source said most party members wanted to get Brexit done and that as long as the UK was on its way out of the bloc a short extension would “not be seen as much of a problem except by the absolute purists”.
They added: “I would expect this to pass because it pretty much states where the party is.
“I’d be surprised if we get unanimity, but I would be very surprised if it isn’t very strongly backed.”
The warning to Tory MPs comes after more than a dozen helped pass a Commons amendment calling for a no-deal Brexit to be ruled out.
The call, tabled by Meriden MP Caroline Spelman, was backed by 17 colleagues on the Tory benches including former ministers Ken Clarke, Justine Greening and Nick Boles.
Many of those who voted for it also supported a similar amendment by Labour MP Yvette Cooper and have joined calls for a second referendum on the final deal Mrs May brings back from Brussels.
The motion was submitted by Dinah Glover, the chair of Bethnal Green & Bow Conservative Association and London East Area. It is rare for NCC members to submit motions for debate.
Ms Glover told PoliticsHome the motion was a “polite reminder” to Tory MPs that “trying to frustrate Brexit is not acceptable”.
She said: “It is important that no-deal has to remain on the table because that actually strengthens our negotiating position."
And she added: “If MPs are working against a very significant part of the Conservative manifesto then they should build into their calculations that deselection procedures may be brought against them.
“But it is up to their individual associations whether that is a route they would like to go down.”