Tuesday 26 March 2019

May's charm offensive aims to keep Tory MPs onside as majority is whittled away

Determined: Independent Group MP Luciana Berger leaves Millbank Studios near the Houses of Parliament in Westminster yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Determined: Independent Group MP Luciana Berger leaves Millbank Studios near the Houses of Parliament in Westminster yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Steven Swinford

British Prime Minister Theresa May mounted a charm offensive yesterday in a bid to win over Remain-supporting Tory MPs who are considering quitting the party amid concerns she could be about to lose her fragile majority.

The prime minister invited Justine Greening and Philip Lee to Downing Street for talks after both warned they were prepared to quit over Brexit.

Downing Street is now said to be on "resignation watch" as just five more resignations would be enough to collapse the prime minister's working majority.

Meanwhile, it emerged last night that a group of 100 moderate Tory MPs has warned British Prime Minister Theresa May that they are prepared to rebel against her government if she fails to deliver a Brexit deal.

A letter leaked to 'The Daily Telegraph' said that 'numerous' members of the group had become 'deeply troubled' at the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

They are prepared to support votes to take no-deal off the table and to delay the deadline for Brexit.

The development came as Mrs May wrote to three former Tory MPs who defected to join a new independent group, saying: "I do not accept the picture you paint of our party."

Mrs May appeared to acknowledge concerns about "Blukip" in local constituencies, saying associations must ensure "people who are joining support the values of the Conservative Party".

However, she said she did not accept claims by the defectors that the Conservative Party's problems were comparable to the way that Jeremy Corbyn had "allowed the poison of anti-Semitism to go unchecked".

On Wednesday, three Tory MPs, Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston, became the first to resign and join a breakaway group demanding a second Brexit referendum.

They said the party had been "subsumed" by "purple momentum" and criticised the prime minister for her "dismal failure" to stand up to Eurosceptic Tory MPs.

Ms Greening, the former education secretary, was invited to a meeting in Downing Street yesterday afternoon after she said she was staying in the Conservative Party "for the moment".

In a radio interview yesterday, she warned the Tories would no longer be a credible force if they simply became known as the "Brexit party".

Asked whether she would join the new Independent Group of MPs, she told BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme: "It is something that I have considered, but I have reached a different conclusion for the moment."

However, she suggested if the prime minister took Britain out of the EU in a no-deal Brexit, she would leave. "I don't think I would be able to stay part of a party that was simply a Brexit party that had crashed us out of the European Union," she said.

She said that despite repeatedly asking for a meeting with the prime minister, she had not been given one. Within minutes of the interview, she received an invitation from Downing Street and yesterday afternoon had a "frank" discussion with the prime minister.

Mr Lee, who resigned as a justice minister over the party's Brexit policy, was also called to Downing Street.

He said it was his first meeting with the prime minister since last year. He said: "This is the first and only time I have had a one-on-one conversation with the prime minister since my resignation last June. I want to stay and fight for the party."

Irish Independent

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