Theresa May has issued a desperate plea to Conservative MPs to unite and deliver on Brexit, urging her party to “move beyond what divides us” and sacrifice “personal preferences” for the national interest.
The Prime Minister’s rallying cry follows another tumultuous week in Westminster which saw tensions in the party reach boiling point, with one minister accusing Eurosceptic colleagues of “treachery”.
Mrs May, in a letter to all 317 Conservative MPs after her Brexit plans suffered a humiliating Commons defeat on Valentine’s Day, said the result was “disappointing” but vowed that the Government would continue its work to secure changes to the Irish border backstop.
She announced that she will return to Brussels for further talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker next week, and revealed plans to speak to the leaders of every EU member state over the coming days.
Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will meet the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Monday to discuss the proposals of the Alternative Arrangements Working Group of Tories, who have been seeking a compromise solution to avoid the need for backstop.
And Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will set out what changes would be required to eliminate the legal risk of being indefinitely trapped in the controversial Irish backstop in a speech on Tuesday.
In an appeal for unity 41 days before Britain’s scheduled departure, she said as party leader she had sought to “steer a course that can unite all pragmatic points of view behind a clear and coherent policy” which honours the referendum and leaves the EU with a negotiated deal.
“History will judge us all for the parts we have played in this process. I believe that a country with our innate strengths, enviable resources, and enormous talent can face the future with confidence that our best days lie ahead. But we stand now at a crucial moment.
“I do not underestimate how deeply or how sincerely colleagues hold the views which they do on this important issue – or that we are all motivated by a common desire to do what is best for our country, even if we disagree on the means of doing so.
“But I believe that a failure to make the compromises necessary to reach and take through Parliament a Withdrawal Agreement which delivers on the result of the referendum will let down the people who sent us to represent them and risk the bright future that they all deserve.”
She reiterated that without a Withdrawal Agreement the UK risks a “combination forming in Parliament that will stop Brexit altogether, whatever the long-term consequences for trust in our democracy”.
It was confirmed last week that Labour will back a cross-party plan from backbencher Yvette Cooper – expected to go to a vote on February 27 – which would force the Government to conclude its deal by March 13 or allow MPs to vote on no-deal or a second referendum.
Mrs May also warned the UK could leave without a deal or an implementation period if Parliament fails to unite behind a plan.
“Instead, our party can do what it has done so often in the past: move beyond what divides us and come together behind what unites us; sacrifice if necessary our own personal preferences in the higher service of the national interest; and rise to the level of events in a way that restores the faith of the British people in our political process,” she said.
Meanwhile, The Sunday Times reported that former Brexit minister Steve Baker told colleagues Mrs May’s Brexit negotiations with Brussels were a “complete waste of time”.
It came as:
– International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told the Sunday Telegraph EU leaders were threatening their economies and risking defeats in upcoming elections if they failed to reach a Brexit agreement.
– CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn warned in the Sunday Times that Britain risks “slipping into an economic crisis” unless MPs stop a no-deal Brexit.
– Senior Tory Sir Graham Brady urged his colleagues to “pull together behind the Prime Minister for that final push to Brexit on 29th March”.
Former prime minister Tony Blair told the Sunday Times that Labour risked losing voters if its position of “constructive ambiguity” becomes “destructive indecision”, as he urged the party he once led to advocate a second referendum.
He said: “The risk for Labour is that over time what has been described as constructive ambiguity becomes destructive indecision, losing votes from leave people who think you’re not really leave, and remain people who think you’re not really for remain. I don’t think it’s the right political strategy.”
And Mr Blair warned that confidence in “the economic and the political management” of the country was being eroded because those governing the country are prepared to contemplate a no-deal Brexit.
“I’ve never known a situation like this where you literally have people who are reasonably senior politicians doing this ‘no deal, no problem’ kind of stuff. How can anyone, if they’re talking to people in business about no deal and the consequences, seriously just sit there and say that it will all be fine?,” he said.