Number 10 says there is no alternative to May’s Brexit blueprint
Ex-minister Steve Baker says Chequers plan will lead to a ‘catastrophic split’ in the Tory Party.
Downing Street has insisted there is no alternative to Theresa May’s Chequers blueprint for Brexit amid warnings she risks a “catastrophic split” in the Tory Party if she continues with the plan.
With 200 days until Britain leaves the EU, former Brexit minister Steve Baker, who quit over the proposals earlier this year, said he was “gravely concerned” for the future of the party if she were to press ahead.
Mr Baker, a leading figure in the pro-Brexit Tory European Research Group, said the party’s annual conference in Birmingham, starting on September 30, could prove a decisive moment as Mrs May is forced to acknowledge the scale of grassroots opposition to her proposals.
“If we come out of conference with her hoping to get Chequers through on the back of Labour votes, I think the EU negotiators would probably understand that if that were done, the Tory party would suffer the catastrophic split which thus far we have managed to avoid,” he told the Press Association.
Number 10, however, said that critics of the plan had yet to come forward with a credible alternative which would avoid the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
“Chequers is the only plan on the table which will deliver on the will of the British people while avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“The Prime Minister is working hard to secure a deal and hopes all MPs will be able to support it.”
Justice Secretary David Gauke said “an overwhelming majority within the Conservative Party” backed the Government’s approach.
“There isn’t an alternative credible plan out there,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“I think that it is absolutely right that the Cabinet and the parliamentary party backs the Prime Minister. In challenging circumstances she is the right person to deliver the right deal for this country.”
Number 10 said Mrs May would be chairing a special meeting of the Cabinet on Thursday to discuss the ongoing preparations for a no-deal Brexit if Britain fails to secure an agreement with Brussels.
It is expected to coincide with the publication of the latest tranche of technical papers on the “no-deal” preparations across a whole range of sectors.
Mr Baker’s intervention came amid continuing anger over Boris Johnson’s claim that the Chequers plan, which would see Britain maintain a “common rule book” with the EU for trade in goods and agriculture, was tantamount to wrapping a “suicide vest” around the British constitution.
After his comments in a Sunday newspaper article were widely condemned by ministers, the Prime Ministers’ official spokesman said: “This is not language the Prime Minister would choose to use.
“Beyond that I don’t propose to give this article any further oxygen.”
No 10 was however forced to deny any involvement in a reported dossier detailing the former foreign secretary’s private life indiscretions.
“That is categorically untrue and offensive,” Mrs May’s spokesman said.
The Sunday Times said the dossier was originally drawn up by an aide to Mrs May at the time of the 2016 Tory leadership contest but was not used after Mr Johnson dropped out.
The claims came amid weekend newspaper reports linking Mr Johnson – who is still thought to harbour leadership ambitions – with ex-Tory communications director Carrie Symonds.
They followed the announcement on Friday that Mr Johnson and his wife, Marina Wheeler, are to divorce.
In his article for The Mail on Sunday, Mr Johnson said the Chequers plan would open the UK up to “perpetual political blackmail” by Brussels.
“We have wrapped a suicide vest around the British constitution – and handed the detonator to Michel Barnier,” he said.
“We have given him a jemmy with which Brussels can choose – at any time – to crack apart the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid rebuked his former Cabinet colleague, saying “there are much better ways to articulate your differences”.