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May denies Irish backstop means 'Hotel California' Brexit from which UK can never leave

The Prime Minister warned that getting rid of her would not make the process of leaving the EU any easier to achieve.

Theresa May attacked Tory MPs who are seeking to remove her as party leader (Matt Dunham/PA)
Theresa May attacked Tory MPs who are seeking to remove her as party leader (Matt Dunham/PA)

Theresa May took a swipe at Tory rivals threatening to unseat her as party leader as she warned the next seven days would be “critical” to achieving a successful Brexit.

The Prime Minister warned that a change of leadership would not make it easier to get a deal past parliament or the EU, after furious Brexiteer backbenchers started moves to remove her.

She told Sky’s Ridge On Sunday that as far as she knew the 48-letter threshold for letters of no confidence needed to start a leadership battle had yet to be reached.

In a message to those plotting her downfall, including members of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic MPs, she said she had not considered quitting.

A change of leadership at this point isn’t going to make the negotiations any easier Theresa May

She added: “A change of leadership at this point isn’t going to make the negotiations any easier and it isn’t going to change the parliamentary arithmetic.

“What it will do is bring in a degree of uncertainty. That is uncertainty for people and their jobs.

“What it will do is mean that it is a risk that we delay the negotiations and that is a risk that Brexit gets delayed or frustrated.”

Mrs May revealed that she had spoken to Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the powerful backbench 1922 Committee, and as far as she was aware the required number of Tory MPs' letters to trigger a no confidence vote in her had not been reached.

She said: "I spoke to Sir Graham Brady at the end of last week, I have regular conversations with Sir Graham Brady.

"Graham Brady will make it known if 48 letters are reached, Graham Brady will make it known."

Asked if the 48 letter threshold had been reached she added: "As far as I know, no, the answer to your question is no."

Mrs May earlier defended her Brexit deal, telling Sky News that the EU originally wanted to offer the UK an "off-the-shelf deal".

She said: "We fought that, we stood our ground, we said no, we're the UK, actually we can have a better more ambitious relationship with you.

"It took time but they have come round to that, they said yes, we'll agree a more ambitious relationship with the UK than we at first thought we could give you."

The Prime Minister also laughed off suggestions that the Irish backstop represented a "Hotel California" Brexit - from which you could never leave.

Mrs May said the backstop is an "insurance policy", adding: "Both sides can say yes we agree that there are arrangements in place, that a deal that provides for the people of Northern Ireland and therefore that backstop is no longer necessary."

Pressed over what the Government would do in the event a vote on the Brexit deal was lost in the Commons, Mrs May said: "There's a process that Parliament will go through, were it the case that the deal was lost then the Government would come back with their proposals for what the next step was."

Dominic Raab, who resigned last week as Brexit secretary (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Mrs May’s interview came after former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, whose resignation last week was a key point in one of her most brutal weeks as Prime Minister, suggested she had failed to stand up to a bullying European Union.

There were also continuing reports of a plan by senior Cabinet ministers who remain in Government to try to alter the withdrawal agreement at the 11th hour.

Asked if she had considered stepping down she said: “No I haven’t.

“Of course it has been a tough week, actually these negotiations have been tough right from the start, but they were always going to get even more difficult right toward the end when we are coming to that conclusion.”

She added that the next seven days “are going to be critical”, and said she would be travelling back to Brussels to talk with key figures including Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president ahead of an emergency European Council summit on November 25.

Responding to Mrs May's interview, a source in the ERG said: "We have negotiated in good faith with the iceberg and cannot break our commitments to it."

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From Belfast Telegraph