Tory Remainers and Leavers broadly positive about Theresa May’s Brexit speech
Potential rebels who have called for the UK to stay in a customs union and Eurosceptic backbenchers led by Jacob Rees-Mogg welcomed the speech.
Both Remainer Tory rebels and Brexiteers signalled a temporary truce with Theresa May after she set out details of her vision for a future economic relationship with the European Union.
A clutch of Remain-backing Tories, whose support for staying in a customs union with the EU has threatened a Commons defeat for the Prime Minister, backed the “pragmatic” and “positive” speech.
And a source from the influential European Research Group of Tory backbenchers led by Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested Brexiteers were broadly supportive and praised Mrs May for “swatting away” the EU’s “preposterous” demands on Northern Ireland.
The PM will be pleased to unite both sides of the Conservative Party behind her vision, but there were signals that any suspension of hostilities may be temporary.
This was a pragmatic and positive speech & of course I hope that EU negotiators listen & recognise the benefits for both sides in flexibility. But if PM’s approach to customs partnership is rejected & a refusal to allow sector by sector deals, we are no further on. No plan B— Sarah Wollaston MP (@sarahwollaston) March 2, 2018
Remainer ringleader Anna Soubry, whose amendment to the Trade Bill calling on Mrs May to try to negotiate a customs union with the EU has attracted the support of enough Tories to threaten defeat for the Government, remained defiant in questioning whether Brexit was worth the economic hit.
But Sarah Wollaston, one of those who has signed Ms Soubry’s amendment, welcomed the speech, while warning the PM she needs to come up with a “plan B” if her customs proposals are rejected by the EU.
She tweeted: “This was a pragmatic and positive speech & of course I hope that EU negotiators listen & recognise the benefits for both sides in flexibility. But if PM’s approach to customs partnership is rejected & a refusal to allow sector by sector deals, we are no further on. No plan B”.
Heidi Allen, who also signed the amendment, tweeted: “I’m greatly encouraged by PM’s speech – categorically said WTO not acceptable, no hard border in, citizens to continue to work and study across UK/EU, science participation, mutual regs for eg medicine, data sharing and tariff free customs arrangement #RoadtoBrexit”.
Ms Soubry’s close ally Nicky Morgan said Mrs May had answered the EU’s call for clarity.
Very welcome tone from @theresa_may of realism, compromise, recognition that we are in negotiation with EU & can't ignore some hard facts as well as a desire to unite the nation & build an enduring economic partnership with the EU. EU cannot say now it doesn't know what UK wants— Nicky Morgan MP (@NickyMorgan01) March 2, 2018
She tweeted: “Very welcome tone from @theresa_may of realism, compromise, recognition that we are in negotiation with EU & can’t ignore some hard facts as well as a desire to unite the nation & build an enduring economic partnership with the EU. EU cannot say now it doesn’t know what UK wants”.
And another signatory to the amendment, Stephen Hammond, also welcomed the PM’s “realistic and pragmatic” speech.
But Ms Soubry urged British voters to question whether the reality of Brexit meant it was now worth it.
Responding to the speech, she told BBC News: “It would be better than the alternative which is a hard Brexit but it’s not as good as staying in the single market or the customs union.
“I wish Theresa May, I can assure you, all good fortune, I think my concern is the fact that this is now a facing up by her, undoubtedly it’s to be welcomed this speech, to Brexit reality.”
She added: “It will not deliver the same benefits, the positives to our economy, as we currently have, and I think there is an acceptance of that by her.
“And frankly, the British people need to look at this and say, do I really want all of this? Is this what I voted for? Those that voted Leave, because I was told it was going to be easy, I was told I was going to be better off, I was told I was going to get £350 million a week extra for the NHS and I’m afraid that’s been proved now not to be the case at all.”