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Back 'practical' blueprint or UK will suffer, May tells warring MPs

Theresa May speaking on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday
Theresa May speaking on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday

By Gavin Cordon

Theresa May has appealed to warring Tory MPs to back her controversial blueprint for Brexit and avoid a disorderly withdrawal from the EU which would damage Britain's interests.

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Ahead of a crucial week in Parliament, the Prime Minister acknowledged feelings in the party were running high, but said her plan offered a "hard-headed and practical" way forward.

However, leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg warned trust in Mrs May was waning amid acrimonious claims key ministers, including David Davis, were kept in the dark about her proposals.

In a scathing aside, he accused her of failing to embrace the opportunities of Brexit, saying she was "a Remainer who remained a Remainer". Mrs May meanwhile revealed Donald Trump's advice to her on the Brexit negotiations had been to "sue the EU".

Robert Courts, who succeeded David Cameron as MP for Witney, became the latest ministerial aide to resign over Brexit, quitting as parliamentary private secretary at the Foreign Office.

Today, MPs will vote on a series of amendments to the Customs Bill tabled by members of the European Research Group (ERG), which Mr Rees-Mogg leads, intended to scupper her plans for a "UK-EU free trade area" based on a "common rule book".

With no Labour backing, the changes stand little chance of getting through, although the votes could allow Conservative Brexiteers to stage a show of strength in Parliament.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, who quit as foreign secretary in protest after the plan was agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers, was reported to be preparing to make a resignation statement in the Commons, providing another potential flashpoint.

Mrs May could then face a further challenge tomorrow, this time from pro-EU Tories seeking to amend the Trade Bill to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU, although it is unclear if they will now put it to a vote.

Mrs May came up with revised plans after the EU had forced her to choose one of two options - stay in the customs union and accept ongoing freedom of movement or see Northern Ireland "carved out" from the UK.

As neither was acceptable, she said she needed a compromise that avoided a hard border and "that delivered on the referendum and that was negotiable, we had to make what is a compromise but is a positive in terms of the benefits it gives us."

However, Mr Rees-Mogg said her approach to the Brexit negotiations had been "hopeless", giving too much ground to Brussels and abandoning her previous red lines.

While he played down the prospect of an imminent leadership challenge, he warned that Mrs May risked splitting the party unless she was prepared to change course.

"Brexit is enormously positive, a huge opportunity for the country. I'm afraid the Prime Minister doesn't see that.

"It is why I think she is a Remainer who has remained a Remainer," he told BBC1's Sunday Politics.

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