Theresa May 'ready to cave' over demands from Brexiteers following disastrous reaction to Chequers proposal

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer
Theresa May at Farnborough this morning ahead of a crunch vote (AFP/Getty)

Theresa May is reportedly ready to cave in to the demands of Brexiteers from her own party in an attempt to stop mounting anger over her plans for a soft Brexit.

The Prime Minister has faced increasing pressure to change tack after her Chequers proposals led to multiple resignations, including Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

With the influential European Research Group (ERG) of pro-Brexit MPs tabling four amendments to the customs bill, Mrs May is reported to be ready to give in to their demands rather than allowing the group to stage a show of strength in Parliament.

A senior Government source said ‘no decision yet’ had been made on whether to accept the amendments supported by arch-Eurosceptics including Jacob Rees-Mogg, Sir Bernard Jenkin, Priti Patel and Iain Duncan Smith.

Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Prime Minister still has time to change her proposals (Rex)

A Brexiteer source said that while ministers ‘haven’t yet’ accepted the amendments ‘all the noise is in that direction’.

Mr Rees-Mogg, the leader of the ERG, played down suggestions over the weekend they were seeking to topple Mrs May, saying she still had time to change course on her proposals.

However, the danger to the Prime Minister was underlined by the disclosure that Brexiteers had set up a WhatsApp group to co-ordinate voting tactics, organised by ex-Brexit minister Steve Baker, who quit over the Chequers plan.

The Daily Telegraph reported more than 100 MPs had joined the group, more than double the 48 needed to submit letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister to force a leadership contest.

Despite the reports, Mr Baker said that reports the ERG will pull an amendment to the customs bill if the Government accept the other three was ‘wrong’.

A Downing Street spokesperson said of the reports: ‘There are a number of amendments on both pieces of legislation and, as we did with the withdrawal bill, we will consider the amendments and set out our position in due course.’

News of the Prime Minister caving in to Tory Brexiteers comes as Scott Mann resigned as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Treasury, saying he was ‘not prepared’ to help deliver a ‘watered-down Brexit’.

Mr Mann becomes the ninth Tory to quit in protest at the Prime Minister’s Chequers negotiating position, which Eurosceptics claim is one of the softest versions of Brexit possible and would tie the UK too closely to the EU.

Justine Greening has called for a second Brexit referendum (Rex)

Mrs May is desperate to convince Brexiteers that her plan is the only option. However, on Sunday evening, former Education Secretary Justine Greening categorically stated that there should be a second Brexit referendum, giving the country the option to remain in the EU.

The prominent Remain backbencher, who quit Theresa May’s Cabinet in January, said Parliament is ‘gridlocked’ over Brexit and the public should be given another vote.

The Putney MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today she would campaign for Remain in any new vote.

Theresa May is facing a showdown with Brexit rebels in her party (Rex)

Asked if any other senior Tories backed a second referendum, she said: ‘Yes I believe so.’

On the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan for Brexit she said: ‘I don’t think it can work. I think it was a genuine clever attempt at a compromise that could work.

‘But in practice having looked through the detail now it just won’t and I cannot see how, going forward, the common rulebook will be workable in practice.

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‘What we need is a clear route forward that settles this European question once and for all.’

Tory Brexiteer Sir Bernard Jenkin hit out at Ms Greening’s call for a second referendum, describing the plan as ‘a little ill-thought out’.

He told Today: ‘If we wanted to extend the uncertainty for another long period this is one way of doing it.’

The Chequers proposals for a soft Brexit have not gone down well with Eurosceptic Tories (Rex)

Sir Bernard also said Mrs May’s Chequers proposals were ‘dead’.

He added: ‘I’m afraid it is neither beloved by Remainers or Leavers.

‘It’s also quite likely to be either rejected by the EU or more demands will be made upon it so it will be even less acceptable.’

Business Secretary Greg Clark warned Tory would-be rebels against supporting amendments tabled by arch-Brexiteers, saying they risked harming the country’s ability to trade after leaving the European Union.

He told Today: ‘The amendments are to a Bill that is designed to prepare for the world after Brexit, to be able to establish new customs regime that will be necessary.

Mrs May could face a leadership challenge following her Chequers proposals for Brexit (Rex)

‘So I would hope and expect that those of my colleagues that want to get on with Brexit would recognise that this Bill is essential.’

Mrs May is facing a Commons showdown with Tory Brexiteers determined to force her to abandon her controversial blueprint for leaving the European Union.

Amid rising backbench anger, MPs are set to vote on Monday on a series of Commons amendments intended to wreck her Chequers plan for a ‘common rule book’ covering a new ‘UK-EU free trade area’.

Although the measures are unlikely to pass in the absence of Labour support, it could prove an opportunity for a show of strength by the rebels intended to pressurise her into retreat.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG), played down suggestions over the weekend they were seeking to topple Mrs May, saying she still had time to change course on her proposals.

All the key events before Brexit in 2019 (PA)

However, the danger to the Prime Minister was underlined by the disclosure that Brexiteers had set up a Whatsapp group to co-ordinate voting tactics, organised by ex-Brexit minister Steve Baker, who quit over the Chequers plan.

The Daily Telegraph reported more than 100 MPs had joined the group – more than double the 48 needed to submit letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister to force a leadership contest.

Mr Rees-Mogg said ERG members would be meeting ahead of the Commons debate and votes on the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill – or Customs Bill as it is more generally referred to – when the level of support for the amendments would become clearer.