Belfast Telegraph

Tory rebels in move to block Theresa May’s Brexit plans

Eurosceptic backbenchers have tabled amendments to a key piece of Brexit legislation in the Commons.

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks as she arrives for a summit of heads of state and government at Nato headquarters in Brussels (Francois Mori?AP)
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks as she arrives for a summit of heads of state and government at Nato headquarters in Brussels (Francois Mori?AP)

Tory Eurosceptics have hit back at Theresa May by tabling amendments to a key Brexit Bill which could kill off her Chequers plan for future relations with the EU.

The four amendments to the crucial Customs Bill were put down a day before Thursday’s publication of a White Paper giving details of the Prime Minister’s plans, which infuriated Leavers and prompted the resignation of Cabinet ministers Boris Johnson and David Davis.

A rebellion by Eurosceptic backbenchers could wipe out Mrs May’s majority when the Bill returns to the Commons on Monday, in what would be the first significant test of strength for her Brexit critics.

The PM insisted that the deal she agreed with her Cabinet at Chequers last week “delivers on the vote that people gave on Brexit” in the 2016 referendum.

But prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg described it as a “breakdown in trust” and said Mrs May must now U-turn or be forced to rely on Labour votes to get her legislation through Parliament.

Boris Johnson resigned as foreign secretary in protest at Mrs May’s Chequers deal (Isabel Infantes/PA)

One of the rebel amendments, signed by Mr Rees-Mogg, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and ex-cabinet minister Priti Patel, demands that the UK should scrap an offer to collect taxes and duties on behalf of the EU, unless the remaining 27 member states pledge to do the same for Britain.

A second – backed by the Democratic Unionist Party, former cabinet minister Owen Paterson and Labour’s Kate Hoey – would force the Government to commit itself in law not to allow a customs border down the Irish Sea.

And others would require the UK to have a separate VAT regime from the EU and force the Prime Minister to table primary legislation if she wishes to keep Britain in the customs union.

Senior Tory backbencher Sir Bernard Jenkin said: “These four amendments reflect existing Government policy, and we hope they will be welcomed by the Government.”

But Labour MP Virendra Sharma, a supporter of the Best for Britain campaign for a second referendum, said that a “gang of Brexit bullies are threatening to pull the plug on the Prime Minister”.

“We’re two years on from the referendum and the party of government seems more divided than ever,” said Mr Sharma.

“The Tories can’t decide whether to calm business fears or tell firms to get lost, they’ve lost it at this crucial juncture. Talk about ‘saboteurs’.”

Mr Rees-Mogg, who chairs the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tories, told The Sun: “Unfortunately Chequers was a breakdown in trust. Brexit meant Brexit, but now it appears Brexit means remaining subject to European laws.

“I believe this will help the Government stick to the promises it made.

“It may resolve the dilemma the Prime Minister faces. Does she rely on Labour votes to achieve Brexit or does she change her mind and go back to Lancaster House? Will she stick to her earlier words?”

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has tabled amendments to one of the Government’s key Brexit Bills (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The move came amid warnings that the PM was facing “guerrilla warfare” in Parliament from angry Tory backbenchers determined to block her plans.

Speaking at the Nato summit in Brussels, Mrs May insisted that her Chequers deal delivered on the “red lines” which she set out in her Lancaster House speech last year.

“It delivers on the vote that people gave on Brexit, it delivers the fact that we will have an end to free movement, we will have an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK, we won’t be sending vast contributions to the EU every year, we’ll be out of the Common Agricultural Policy, out of the Common Fisheries Policy,” she said.

“We deliver that Brexit and we do it in a way that protects jobs and livelihoods and meets our commitment to Northern Ireland.”

(PA Graphics)Amid growing discontent on the Tory backbenches, Brexiteer Andrea Jenkyns warned that more resignations could follow those of Mr Johnson, Mr Davis, Brexit minister Steve Baker, two Conservative vice-chairs and two parliamentary aides.

“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, because there is only so much that you can give in a negotiation,” she told BBC2’s Newsnight.

Andrew Bridgen became the first Conservative MP to declare publicly that he has sent a letter of no confidence in Mrs May to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady. Some 48 letters are required to trigger a vote.

But former Conservative leader William Hague warned party rebels that voting against the Prime Minister’s final deal could “endanger everything they have been trying to achieve”.

“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,” Lord Hague told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

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