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Tory vice-chairman warns party against disunity over Brexit

Chris Skidmore said it was vital for electoral success that the Conservatives do not allow themselves to be defined by Europe.

A Conservative vice-chairman has issued a warning to the party of the dangers of disunity over Brexit.

Chris Skidmore, who was appointed this month by Theresa May to chair the new Conservative Policy Commission, said the Tories must not allow themselves to be defined in the public mind by the issue of Europe.

Mr Skidmore’s warning came as the October deadline approaches for agreement on the UK’s withdrawal deal and a political declaration on the future UK/EU relationship.

Meanwhile, the “facilitated customs arrangement” at the heart of Mrs May’s Chequers plan for Brexit was described as “fanciful” by one trade expert, who questioned whether it could operate as suggested.

The Government has claimed that 96% of goods would pay little or no tariff at the border under the FCA scheme.

But Alan Winters, professor of economics at the UK Trade Policy Observatory at Sussex University, told The Times that this figure related to all trade, and the proportion for imports alone would be significantly lower.

“It is weird that they are using the whole of trade for the basis of their calculation when it is clear that it is only imports that will be affected and it has nothing at all to do with exports, ” said Prof Winters.

“The idea that you would know where all finished goods being imported were headed also doesn’t make sense.

“This is clearly reasonable for some goods, like meat, that are heavily regulated, but we cannot see it applying automatically to all goods.”

He added: “The whole thing when you analyse it is pretty fanciful.”

In a warning to feuding Tories from the Remain and Leave wings of the party, Mr Skidmore said: “Together we stand, divided we fall.

“The message is particularly acute as we approach the final stage of Brexit negotiations with the EU.”

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the Kingswood MP said that the history of the 1990s demonstrated the “futility of members of the same political family prioritising division over our duty to serve the country”.

He said that Conservatives must return their focus to domestic policies like public services, tax and controlling welfare bills if they are to “unite our party and win for the future”.

Mr Skidmore said his Commission will carry out “one of the largest listening and engagement exercises ever conducted by a governing party” with the aim of developing policies to win back voters from Labour.

And he stressed that delivering on Brexit would not be the key to winning the next election.

“We must recognise the advantages that Brexit can bring, but let us never be defined by it,” he said.

“Millions of people wish to lead their own lives free from the monopoly of state control. It is those people we stand for and have a duty to fight for, united.”

His comments came as new polling analysis suggested that a majority of British constituencies now want to remain in the EU.

Analysis by consumer analytics company Focaldata of polls involving more than 15,000 people found that 341 out of 632 parliamentary seats in England Scotland and Wales now have a Remain majority.

The company found that 112 seats had switched from Leave to Remain since the 2016 referendum, 97 of them in England, 14 in Wales and one in Scotland.

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