'Tories will lose next election' if Brexit is delivered 'in name only' - Rees-Mogg


A leading Brexiteer has warned Theresa May that if she delivers "Brexit in name only" with a status quo transition period the Conservatives will lose the next election.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the influential European Research Group of backbench Tory Eurosceptics, also told the Prime Minister "the leader is important, the party is more important".

His intervention comes after David Davis was forced to play down Cabinet rifts over Britain's withdrawal from the European Union and amid rising disquiet among Tory backbenchers over Mrs May's leadership.

File photo dated 05/09/17 of Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg (Yui Mok/PA)
Jacob Rees-Mogg is the chairman of the influential European Research Group of backbench Tory Brexiteers. (Yui Mok/PA)

The Brexit Secretary on Friday insisted there was "no difference" between himself, Chancellor Philip Hammond and the PM on the Brexit outcome they were seeking.

But Mr Hammond's remark on Thursday that the UK's trade relations with the EU would change only "very modestly" after Brexit sparked anger among Tory Eurosceptics and earned him a rebuke from Downing Street.

The Chancellor then risked stoking Tory divisions further by saying the UK should seek a "middle way" in negotiations in order to maximise access to EU markets.

Mr Davis used a speech in Teesport to try to quell unease in Tory ranks, asserting that the UK would be able to negotiate and sign trade deals with outside countries during the two-year transition period expected to follow the official date of Brexit in March 2019.

And in a bid to allay Eurosceptic concerns over Britain being required to follow EU rules while having no say in drawing them up, he said he would seek the establishment of an "appropriate process" for the UK to object to any new laws introduced during transition.

.@DavidDavisMP sets out our vision on the Implementation Period pic.twitter.com/OO3YXkQrSS

-- Exiting the EU Dept (@DExEUgov) January 26, 2018

Then in a further apparent attempt to show unity, Mr Davis, Mr Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark wrote an open letter to reassure business leaders the UK would maintain continuity with EU rules during transition.

EU citizens would also be free to "live and work" in the UK during the implementation period of "around two years" and have "no new barriers to taking up employment", except having to register with the authorities, the letter said.

It put the ministers on a collision course with Mr Rees-Mogg, who warned a "status quo transition", with the UK subject to European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings, having to accept new laws, and paying into the EU budget, would be "a failure of negotiations" and a "sign of weakness".

And in an interview with the Telegraph, he warned Mrs May: "The less of Brexit you get, the more likely you are to get Jeremy Corbyn.

"If you get a good, clean Brexit and get the advantages from it then the chances of getting Jeremy Corbyn are much diminished.

"If everything is delayed for two years and then there's high alignment you will find that by 2022 no-one will have noticed any difference from having left.

"Then what will be the point of voting for the party that's implemented it. I'm against 'Brino' (Brexit in name only)."

Mr Rees-Mogg insisted the PM has his "full support" and said Mr Hammond appeared to be "obstructing Brexit".

But he added: "If the Conservative Party doesn't deliver the Brexit that the British people voted for, the Conservatives will not win the next election. The leader is important, but the party is more important.

"Brexit is more important than anyone other than the Queen."

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. (PA)
Tory disquiet over Theresa May's leadership appears to be growing. (PA)

Discontent among Tories has led to reports that the number of MPs who have written to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee calling for a leadership contest is close to the trigger point needed to force a battle aimed at toppling Mrs May.

And Mr Rees-Mogg, himself seen as a possible candidate, talked up one of his potential rivals to take over - Boris Johnson.

He said: "There is a lot of jealousy about Boris because he is an enormously popular figure. He is the one figure in British politics that people literally stop their cars, get out and shake him by the hand."

Reports have also suggested that MPs believe Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is positioning himself for a leadership bid.

Meanwhile, suggestions that UK officials are in talks with the EU about extending the Brexit transition period to three years were dismissed by the Government.

A spokesman said: "This is a categoric lie. The time limited period should be determined by the length of time it takes to put in place new arrangements and we believe that should be around two years."