Brexit battle resumes as MPs return to Westminster
The Conservative Party’s divisions over the European Union have not been healed by Parliament’s summer recess.
Tory MPs return to Westminster with Theresa May’s plans for Brexit under sustained attack from both wings of the party.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab will update the Commons on the latest developments following his talks with the European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier on the Chequers plan thrashed out by Mrs May’s Cabinet.
But the proposals have been rejected by Brussels, savaged by Brexiteer former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Tory Europhiles also have major reservations about the plan.
The Commons resumes after the summer recess with the pace of Brexit talks in Brussels intensifying in the hope of achieving a deal this autumn.
But Conservative divisions have deepened, with Mr Johnson and Mrs May’s Downing Street engaged in a bitter war of words over the approach to Brexit.
In a barely veiled rebuff to Mr Johnson’s ambitions to become prime minister, Mrs May’s official spokesman said the country needed “serious leadership with a serious plan” which was being provided by the current premier.
The comments came after Mr Johnson used his regular Daily Telegraph column to launch a scathing attack on Mrs May’s Brexit strategy, branding it a “fix” that can only lead to victory for the EU.
Opposition to the Chequers plan – which would involve a complicated facilitated customs arrangement with the EU and a “common rulebook” for goods – has also come from Remain-supporting Tories.
Heidi Allen acknowledged some of her fellow pro-EU Conservatives viewed Chequers as a “complete non-starter” but others, like her, were prepared to give it a “little bit longer”.
“I think Chequers hasn’t been given a fair chance. It was… an opening position. Brexit ultimately was always going to be, to the 11th hour, a negotiating piece of work,” says Heidi Allen MP, adding she expects the EU to push back on certain areas.@heidiallen75 | #newsnight pic.twitter.com/InIXSBfgFd— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) September 3, 2018
She told the BBC’s Newsnight: “The only way any of us are going to come through this is with a little bit of compromise on both sides.
“Nobody is going to get exactly what they want but you have to start somewhere.”
Asked what she would do if Mr Johnson succeeded in ousting Mrs May, she said: “If Boris was leader I doubt very much that I would be in the Conservative Party and there are a lot of my fellow colleagues who feel the same.”
Former party leader Lord Hague used his own Daily Telegraph column to warn Tories their civil war could result in the collapse of the Government and either a second referendum or a general election – and the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street.
“Some say May’s plan is too much of a compromise, a small number that it isn’t enough of one, and still others now advocate a different compromise altogether,” he said.
“The likely result is so obvious it hardly needs stating, which is that the entire idea is put at risk, and all of them will lose out in the end.
“It is thus quite possible that a year from now, we could be contemplating why we are still in the EU after all, or why we left it with maximum damage all round with minimum notice, or how we came to have an even weaker minority government, or how a Marxist despised by his own MPs ended up as Prime Minister.”
MPs from the Commons Exiting the EU Committee were in Brussels on Monday for talks with Mr Barnier, who made clear his objections to the Chequers plan on customs and the common rulebook.
Committee chairman Hilary Benn told Newsnight the customs plan was “not a runner and nor is the common rulebook”.
“The issue is for the 40 billion pounds we are paying, is there an agreement that can be done that polices the border remotely from the border?“ asks Rees-Mogg on the EU’s stance on the Northern Ireland border.@Jacob_Rees_Mogg | #newsnight pic.twitter.com/w0dSCVdhjG— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) September 3, 2018
Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the influential European Research Group of Conservatives, told the programme he wanted to see a Canada-style trade deal, with issues around the Northern Ireland border dealt with away from the frontier.
“The issue is, for the £40 billion we are paying, is there an agreement that can be done that polices the border remotely from the border?” he said.
The cross-party panel will question the Brexit Department’s senior mandarin Philip Rycroft on Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign group is launching a new £200,000 push for a second referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal.
The prospect of a Tory leadership election has seen Leave.EU founder Arron Banks – a former Ukip donor – pushing for Brexiteers to join the party to have a say over Mrs May’s replacement.
But his own efforts to join – along with spin doctor Andy Wigmore – met resistance from Tory HQ.
“Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore’s applications for membership of the Conservative Party have not been accepted,” a spokeswoman said after reports they had attempted to join Tory Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen’s North West Leicestershire association.