Tory minister criticised for "plain nasty" Brexit hanging comments

Solicitor general Robert Buckland

A Conservative minister has been criticised for "oddly dark" comments about hanging following a plea for unity over Brexit from Theresa May.

It followed a meeting of the backbench 1922 committee this evening ahead of a series of crunch Commons votes in which Mrs May told MPs to consider the signal that would be sent to Brussels if the government was defeated.

Solicitor general Robert Buckland appealed for unity, saying: "There's ongoing work happening and I think it's emblematic, actually, of a real sense of common purpose in the party that we all hang together or we all hang separately.

"It's more than just about party unity, this is about the national interest."

Mr Buckland, who was a Remain supporter, was standing alongside junior Brexit minister and Leaver Steve Baker when he made the comments.

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Alex Sobel, a Labour MP and champion of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain campaign, said the "analogy is just plain nasty".

He said: "It's an oddly dark comment from a minister who is solicitor general. He should be ashamed. "I think the big thing from the 1922 committee meeting is this - there is nothing that says unity more when you have to get two MPs, from different factions, to come out of the 1922 committee to brief the media and paper over the massive cracks between remain and leave Tory MPs. "The government's position isn't a position, its a sham to get through the next 48 hours and keep Jacob Rees-Mogg in check. This is no way to run a country."

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Mrs May used the meeting to tell her MPs: "We must think about the message Parliament will send to the European Union this week.

"I am trying to negotiate the best deal for Britain. I am confident I can get a deal that allows us to strike our own trade deals while having a border with the EU which is as frictionless as possible.

"But if the Lords amendments are allowed to stand, that negotiating position will be undermined."

The plea came as the EU (Withdrawal) Bill returns to the Commons tomorrow with ministers seeking to overturn a raft of amendments by the House of Lords intended to keep Britain close to the EU after Brexit.

However, they face a revolt by pro-EU Tory MPs determined to retain as many of the changes as possible in the legislation.

Mrs May told her backbenchers that while the bill itself may be a largely technical measure, the way that they vote in the division lobbies tomorrow and Wednesday will send an important signal to the country.

"The purpose of the EU Withdrawal Bill is simple - it is putting EU legislation into law to ensure a smooth and orderly transition as we leave.

"But the message we send to the country through our votes this week is important. We must be clear that we are united as a party in our determination to deliver on the decision made by the British people.

"They want us to deliver on Brexit and build a brighter future for Britain as we take back control of our money, our laws and our borders."

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