Monday 22 July 2019

Eurosceptics' joy at 'killing off' May's Chequers plan

British Prime Minister Theresa May during the opening day of the Farnborough International
Airshow in Hampshire. Picture: PA
British Prime Minister Theresa May during the opening day of the Farnborough International Airshow in Hampshire. Picture: PA
Jacob Rees-Mogg tabled the amendments to the bill. Picture: PA

Christopher Hope

Conservative Eurosceptics claimed to have killed off UK Prime Minister Theresa May's Chequers plan last night by forcing her to make changes that will leave it "dead on arrival" in Brussels.

Mrs May insisted that her Brexit blueprint was not fatally compromised after she caved in to four demands from Leave supporters in order to avoid a Commons rebellion over a key piece of Brexit legislation.

Jubilant Brexiteers believe Brussels will now reject the Chequers plan, forcing Mrs May to think again.

Mrs May's climbdown provoked a backlash from Remain-supporting Tories, who accused her of being "frightened" of her backbenchers and threatened their own rebellion when another piece of Brexit legislation is put to the vote today.

With Tory divisions over Europe once again threatening to tear the party apart, MPs from both wings of the party attacked Mrs May's Brexit blueprint, as well as each other, as a debate on the Brexit Customs Bill descended into angry mud-slinging.

It came as Mrs May prepared to address grassroots members in a conference call tomorrow in a direct appeal to them to back her deal, after Conservative Central HQ emailed constituency chairmen pleading with them to publicly support the proposal.

One senior Conservative warned that the Brexit plan amounted to an "existential issue" for the Tory party which risks being wiped out at the next general election if it is seen to be "betraying 17.4 million people".

A sense of chaos gripping the Government last night was increased when it emerged that the UK Parliament is likely to rise for the long summer break on Thursday, five days earlier than had been scheduled.

Whitehall sources insisted the idea was simply to avoid MPs having to return for a single day next week, but it would also mean Theresa May's critics in her own party would not have enough time to force a no-confidence vote before September.

Scott Mann, a parliamentary private secretary at the Treasury, resigned yesterday, saying he could not support the "watered down" Brexit being proposed by Mrs May.

He was the seventh member of the Government to resign over Brexit in 10 days, and the 10th Tory MP overall.

However, a close ally of Philip Hammond, the Remain-backing chancellor, mockingly described talk of crisis over the Chequers plan as "fake news", adding: "Crisis? What crisis?"

Brexiteers in the Tory Party celebrated after Mrs May accepted four amendments to the customs Bill tabled by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs, and others.

The most controversial of them would prevent Britain collecting EU tariffs at the borders - a key part of Mrs May's customs plan - unless Brussels agreed to a reciprocal arrangement.

Simon Clarke, a Conservative backbencher, said: "The [Chequers] deal is holed below the waterline.

"It is dead, and we are tearing ourselves apart over something that is dead, and that is incredibly frustrating.

"We urgently need to think again so that we have a workable strategy."

The government's Brexit Customs Bill, last night cleared the Commons after MPs gave it a third reading by 318 votes to 285 - a majority of just 33.

Mrs May saw off defeat by just three votes on one proposal, with defence minister Guto Bebb voting against the Government, effectively quitting his frontbench role. Some 14 Tory rebels voted against. Mrs May inched through with the support of three Labour MPs.

Irish Independent

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