London Evening Standard/London
Tory warfare over Brexit was stepped up yesterday with new claims by rebels that two or more Cabinet ministers are ready to resign if Theresa May gives further ground to the EU.
The tensions deepened with open displays of disobedience and disrespect for the prime minister — with one backbencher even snubbing an invitation from the chief whip to join colleagues watching yesterday’s England semi-final on a big screen at No 10.
Former leader William Hague intervened, with a warning to right-wingers that they could unwittingly reverse Britain’s exit from the EU if they attempt to unseat May. But Andrea Jenkyns, the Brexiteer who quit as a ministerial aide to oppose a soft exit in May, said right-wingers would not back down as they aimed to “put country first”.
She told the BBC: “I think if the prime minister makes further concessions with the EU then there will no doubt be more resignations from Brexiteers in the Cabinet, from junior ministers to PPSs (parliamentary aides) because there is only so much that you can give in a negotiation.”
Ex-minister Mark Francois said Tories had “real concerns” about the direction of Brexit. Two vice-chairs of the Conservatives, Ben Bradley and Maria Caulfield, resigned on Tuesday in protest at the Chequers accord masterminded by May.
They followed former Cabinet ministers Boris Johnson and David Davis in saying it was not acceptable. Backbencher Andrew Bridgen sent a letter of no-confidence in May to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady.
Lord Hague warned the right-wingers that wrecking the Chequers blueprint could “endanger everything they have been trying to achieve”. The peer, who led the campaign to save the pound, said the consequence could be a second referendum or a Labour government — either of which could lead to Brexit being cancelled.
“There is a whole range of scenarios in which they get no Brexit, or an indefinitely delayed Brexit, or a change of government or a second referendum,” he said. The Chequers plan got a boost when Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomed it as a chance to unclog talks. He said “the European Union could be flexible too” after May softened her red lines. “I think we are now entering into that space,” he told Irish MPs.
Crawley MP Henry Smith posted his football invitation from Chief Whip Julian Smith on Twitter, with the caption: “Seeing as the prime minister isn’t bringing Brexit home I’m concerned attending would be a bad omen for football coming home... I’ll pass.”
The chief whip was praised by soft Brexiteers for sending a courteous reply offering to let Smith give his invitation to a constituent.
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