No plot to gag Philip Hammond on Brexit - minister

There is no "plot to gag" Cabinet members who want a softer Brexit, Justice Secretary David Gauke has insisted.

The remarks came after it emerged the three leading Cabinet Brexiteers will all give key note speeches on the UK's EU withdrawal stance, but Chancellor Philip Hammond will not take part in the co-ordinated bid to set out the Government's position.

Mr Gauke told ITV's Peston on Sunday: "He is not part of the set of speeches that have been outlined today, but that doesn't mean that the Chancellor is not expressing his views both internally in the Cabinet conversations, but also externally.

"So, I don't think that there really is anything in this, that this is somehow any kind of plot to gag a particular faction of ministers. I don't think that's a fair characterisation at all."

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In a bid to regain the initiative on Brexit after a rocky few weeks during which Cabinet tensions came to the surface, Prime Minister Theresa May is set to make two keynote addresses.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis, and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox will also deliver speeches, but the only minister who backed Remain taking part in the project is Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington.

Mr Johnson will kick-off the Brexit blitz on Wednesday, Valentine's Day, with a call for unity over Brexit.

Mrs May will deliver a major speech on post-Brexit UK-EU security in Germany next Saturday, and will round-off the process in about three weeks time with a keynote address on the overall relationship, following a special "away day" summit of the Cabinet withdrawal committee at Chequers.

However, Tory tensions remained to the fore as former minister and leading rebel Anna Soubry delivered a warning to the PM.

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Asked if she believed there is a majority in the House of Commons to defeat "the kind of Brexit the Prime Minister wants", Ms Soubry told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show: "If she's not careful, yes."

Pressed on whether she thought Brexit will definitely happen, Ms Soubry, who appeared on the programme with pro-Europe Labour MP Chuka Umunna, said: "Will it definitely happen? I genuinely don't know what is going to happen."

When Mr Marr suggested that Ms Soubry is closer in her politics to Mr Umunna than she is to Jacob Rees-Mogg, she said: "I'm not denying that."

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said the series of withdrawal speeches would set out a Brexit "vision".

She told The Andrew Marr Show: "What the public want is, they want the vision and they want some meat on the bones."

The Andrew Marr Show
The Andrew Marr Show

Ms Mordaunt insisted she believed a transition period was "a given" despite claims to the contrary by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

She said: "What I would say to the public is that, actually, the other nations involved in this are very pragmatic and have not been impressed with some of the language that the (European) Commission has used."

Asked if it was a Government red line to not have to grant full rights to EU migrants who come to Britain during a transition period, Ms Mordaunt said: "It is what we are setting out in our position. Again, all of this is a negotiation."

The wave of speeches comes as a Tory party donor warned the Conservative Party would be "decimated" at an election unless Mrs May could "take the bull by the horns" and show strong leadership.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will also make a speech (Steve Parsons/PA)
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will also make a speech (Steve Parsons/PA)

Tory party donor Sir John Hall warned that the PM needed to "stand up" and "convince everybody that she can be the leader who can stay".

He told the Observer: "She's got to take the bull by the horns and say, 'this is the road we are going. Do your damnedest - if you want to vote me out, vote me out'.

"But we have to appear stronger."

He added: "If we had an election, I reckon we'd be decimated. To me as a donor, the Conservative party has to look at itself in terms of where we're going."