Top Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis swear loyalty to Theresa May amid leadership challenge talk
Leading Tory eurosceptics Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis have pledged their allegiance to Theresa May after Conservative Brexiteers openly discussed dislodging the Prime Minister in a leadership challenge.
The European Research Group of eurosceptic backbenchers talked through the party’s process for unseating Mrs May at a meeting last night, amid fury at the Prime Minister’s Chequers Brexit plan.
One MP present said: “If she won’t chuck Chequers then I’m afraid the party will chuck her.”
But both Mr Rees-Mogg, who chairs the ERG, and former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who walked out of the Government over Chequers, gave Mrs May their backing on Wednesday.
Mr Mogg said: “I have long said, and repeated again and again, that I think the policy needs to be changed but I’m supporting the person.
“Theresa May has enormous virtues. She is a fantastically dutiful prime minister and she has my support. I just want her to change one item of policy.”
Mr Davis meanwhile said he had made it “very plain” that Mrs May was “a very good Prime Minister”.
“Like Jacob, I disagree with her on one issue, and it’s this issue,” he said.
“And she should stay in place because we need stability and we need decent government as the backdrop to what we’re doing in the accompanying six months.”
Tory MP Michael Fabricant meanwhile cast doubt on “greatly exaggerated” claims that a string of fellow backbenchers stood reading to trigger a vote of no confidence in Mrs May.
He said many MPs had “sat in uncomfortable silence” despite being “unhappy” with the Chequers plan.
NORTHERN IRELAND PLAN
The fulsome praise for the embattled Prime Minister came as the ERG unveiled their alternative proposals to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, a key sticking point in talks on leaving the European Union.
The UK has been at odds with Brussels over the best way to maintain a seamless frontier with the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.
Britain has proposed a “facilitated customs arrangement” - a key plank of the Chequers deal - which would see Britain stay in some form of customs union with the EU beyond December 2020.
But Brexiteers say that plan gives too much ground to Brussels and fear it could hobble future trade deals and keep the UK in the bloc's regulatory orbit in the future.
They are instead calling for a Free Trade Agreement between Britain and the EU with “100% tariff-free access”, and say VAT and customs could be handled using existing electronic procedures.
The group argues that “co-operative data sharing” between the UK and the EU will cut the need for customs checks, and say a raft of customs and VAT brokers could be hired to help firms navigate the new system.
The ERG meanwhile calls for initial “full regulatory alignment” between Northern Ireland and the Republic on trading standards to make “goods unacceptable for sale in the Republic of Ireland equally unacceptable in Northern Ireland”.
Launching the plan, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “There is an iron focus in this paper on answering the EU’s problem, not doing what we’ve done before and saying how we would like to do it.
“We’re saying, ‘this is the problem you’ve outlined as the EU and this is how it can be solved from your point of view'. So we’ve turned the question round - mostly people have been saying what would the UK like. And we’re not doing that. This isn’t a wish list.”
Tory peer Lord Trimble, who served as the first First Minister of Northern Ireland following the Good Friday Agreement, meanwhile batted away claims that Brexit could cause “a reversion to violence” on the island - and accused the EU itself of risking “instability”.
“The basic principle in the Good Friday Agreement is the principle of consent in dealing with political issues and the political future of Northern Ireland,” he said.
“It's a question of consent. And here we have Brussels and [EU chief negotiator Michel] Barnier suggesting that Northern Ireland should no longer be part of the United Kingdom for the purposes of trade.
“Now that is contrary to the agreement, it is a breach of the agreement. If anything is going to likely to lead to instability, this is it."