Tory MPs warn Theresa May she risks splitting her party

Ulster Unionist leader launches stinging Brexit attack on DUP

British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn says the idea of prime minister Theresa May bringing her Brexit deal before parliament for a fourth time is "beyond ridiculous." Video: Reuters

 

Conservative MPs have been lining up to warn British prime minister Theresa May she will split her party if she seeks a softer Brexit following votes in the House of Commons on Monday evening.

Steve Baker, the deputy chairman of the hardline Brexiteer European Research Group (ERG) of MPs, said if Mrs May pursued a Brexit based on a customs union it would risk a split in the party on the scale of the dispute over the Corn Laws in the 19th century, which divided the Conservatives for a generation.

The former Brexit minister Suella Braverman said it would threaten the survival of the party.

Brexiteers are nervous that if the House of Commons votes in favour of a customs union as its preferred option, Mrs May will seek to agree such a deal with Brussels, perhaps by committing to it in a rewritten political declaration.

There was frantic activity among prospective Tory leadership candidates over the weekend, with British media reporting that groups of supporters are already being assembled in advance of the anticipated leadership election.

Mrs May said last week that she would resign if MPs approve the withdrawal agreement.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill are travelling to Brussels to meet the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and other European leaders on Monday.

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The purpose of the visit, they said, was to ensure that EU leaders “continue to act in the interests of Ireland in the event of any crash-out Brexit”.

In the North, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Robin Swann has launched a stinging attack on the DUP, accusing the party of positing Brexit positions that swing from leave to remain.

‘Avoidable debacle’

Mr Swann said a “wholly avoidable debacle” had been “created by a prime minister wedded to unachievable red lines, supported by a DUP whose policies now range from crash out to remain”.

He said the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds and the party’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson were now offering opposing views on Brexit.

“On Friday Nigel Dodds expressed the view that the United Kingdom would be better remaining in the EU rather than risk the integrity of the union, yet later on Friday evening Sammy Wilson told the Belfast Telegraph that it would be ‘perfectly acceptable’ to leave without a deal if the right agreement could not be achieved,” Mr Swann said.

“Both can’t be right,” he added.

He said the UUP had repeatedly expressed its opposition to a no-deal exit which could “create mayhem for businesses and farmers”.

“If we need to have serious discussions about achieving tariff-free trade between the United Kingdom and the EU to avoid the potential disaster of leaving without a sensible deal, then that is a discussion that needs to be had,” said Mr Swann.

“We recently set out our idea of a common travel area for goods that delivers Brexit, and we are very clear that joint authority through the backstop is wholly unacceptable,” he added.

Mr Swann said that the DUP needs to start listening “instead of being caught up in the bright lights of the national stage, and they need to start putting Northern Ireland’s interests and that of the union first, instead of selfish party political goals”.

He added: “Northern Ireland deserves better. We need to build a positive trading relationship with the EU for the future, and we need to strengthen Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom.”

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