Tory MPs declare war on 'intolerant' hardcore pro-Brexit colleagues ahead of leadership race
Tory MPs determined to avoid a no-deal Brexit have declared war on the “intolerant” hardcore anti-EU wing of the party ahead of the upcoming Conservative leadership contest.
MPs from the ‘One Nation Conservatives’ group said they would fight against any candidate who might usher in a no-deal departure from the EU.
The move opens up a new front in the battle to secure the Tory crown, after Theresa May announced she would soon set out a timetable for her departure.
Dozens of MPs, including Cabinet ministers Amber Rudd and Rory Stewart, as well as ministers Caroline Nokes, Margot James and Tobias Ellwood, met in a Parliamentary committee room to lay out their demands.
They vowed to test leadership hopefuls against a statement of values, penned by former Downing Street policy guru George Freeman, which included the rejection of “narrow nationalism”.
Co-chair of the group Sir Nicholas Soames declared: “Debate in our party has been drowned out by the very aggressive and intolerant tone of the [hardcore pro-Brexit] European Research Group.
“What we are relaunching here today is that long, Tory tradition of tolerance, pragmatism and not being ideological, with an absolute determination to get these values back, front and centre of the Tory party for the future.”
Defence Minister Mr Ellwood meanwhile said the group wanted to drive British politics away from the “extremes”.
Chair of the One Nation Conservatives caucus, Nicky Morgan, swerved the question when asked whether the group could support a Tory leadership candidate who backed a no-deal Brexit.
But Digital Minister Margot James said: “There are candidates who will go out of their way to make sure the country doesn’t leave without a deal and that is what we need to ensure we get out of this leadership contest.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Ms Rudd added that the biggest threat facing the country was whether it gets the “right Brexit”.
Meanwhile, justice minister Robert Buckland argued candidates hoping to seize the keys to Downing Street would have to “answer to” the group and its statement of values.
“This will be a litmus test for candidates to mark themselves against - that is the whole point,” he said.
However the group insisted it was not working to stop a particular candidate and was not a vehicle for a specific leadership bid, but a movement to promote a Conservative vision that goes beyond Brexit.
“The Conservative party is entering a new phase and we are determined to shape that phase,” Ms Rudd told the group.
“We are going to be stepping up and making ourselves heard because we are proud and honest and strong about what we believe in.”
Chair of the European Research Group, Jacob Rees-Mogg argued his wing of the parliamentary party has a stronger claim to the traditions of Benjamin Disraeli, who championed one nation Conservatism.
He told PoliticsHome: "Disraeli expanded democracy greatly in the second reform bill 1867, so the ERG which aims to restore democracy by leaving the EU and implanting the referendum result has much the better claim to Disraelian tradition."
The Tory leadership contest has been sputtering into life despite Mrs May not yet setting out her departure date.
Mr Stewart has already declared his intention to stand, as have former Cabinet ministers Boris Johnson and Esther McVey.