Theresa May's appeal for Brexit unity "must fall on deaf ears"

PUBLISHED: 12:16 11 June 2018 | UPDATED: 12:17 11 June 2018

Prime minister Theresa May Photo: PA / Steve Parsons

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Theresa May's appeal for a show of unity from her warring MPs "must fall on deaf ears", a leading anti-Brexit campaigner has said.

The prime minister is seeking to avoid a series of damaging Commons defeats on the government's centrepiece Brexit legislation.

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill returns to the Commons on 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.

In what is likely to be a highly charged appearance before the backbench 1922 Committee this evening the prime minister will tell her MPs they have a duty to deliver on the referendum vote to leave the EU.

She will make the point to 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," she is expected to tell them.

"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."

But Eloise Todd, CEO of the anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain, said the prime minister's "last-ditch plea for unity and loyalty must fall on deaf ears".

She said: "Conservative MPs must put the party before country and act in the national interest. Theresa May is a leading a zombie government that has no plan and no clue.

"The prime minister will, again, create another fudge to try and kick the can down the road, but at some point, we are going to run out of road.

"History will look back on these days and this is the moment that Conservative MPs need to stand up and be counted, particularly on the meaningful vote."

Despite depending on the votes of the 10 DUP MPs for her precarious Commons majority, there were signs of cautious optimism among ministers that they would get the numbers to see off the revolt.

Some pro-EU Tories were reported to be backing away amid fears Mrs May could be fatally damaged by defeat, opening the way for a hardline Brexiteer to take over at the top of the party.

However, ministers were said to be taking nothing for granted with whips continuing to talk to MPs over the weekend - conversations that were expected to continue into the week.

The government is thought to be most vulnerable on two amendments - one on the customs union and the other giving Parliament a decisive say over what happens next if it rejects a final Brexit deal.

Ahead of the 1922 meeting, Conservative Remain campaigner Sarah Wollaston called for "further concessions" on the customs union.

The Totnes MP said she was "minded" to rebel to support a Lords amendment on giving Parliament a meaningful vote on an exit deal, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We would like to see further concessions on the amendment on the customs union because it is just a very sensible amendment that says keep it on the table, don't completely rule it out."

The votes follow another bruising week for Mrs May over Brexit which saw David Davis reportedly threaten to resign unless there were changes to the government's latest "backstop" proposal to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic if there is no overall deal.

It then emerged Boris Johnson had privately suggested Donald Trump would make a better job of the Brexit negotiations than Mrs May was doing while the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, rejected key elements of the "backstop" plan.

Mr Davis is in Brussels today for the latest round of negotiations with Mr Barnier.

Backbencher and leading Hard Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said he expected there would be enough unity in Conservative ranks to see the Bill through.

The Tory MP told LBC radio today that he would not expect people like pro-Remain MP Ken Clarke, who had "strong principles", to change their minds.

Mr Clarke had urged the rebels to hold their nerve, arguing yesterday that if they succeeded they would strengthen Mrs May's hand against the Brexit hardliners in the Cabinet.

But Mr Rees-Mogg said there was a recognition within the party that supporting the Bill would strengthen the Prime Minister's position and help keep Jeremy Corbyn's Labour from taking power.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: "I think there will be some unity this week, it won't be perfect but it ought to be enough to get the Bill through and to reinforce the strength of Theresa May's position."

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