Tory MP Suella Fernandes has taken over as the unofficial head of a group of Brexit-backing MPs with the power to take down the Prime Minister.
The Fareham MP is now chairperson of the European Research Group [ERG] after her predecessor Steve Baker was made a minister in the Brexit Department.
Fernandes, an ally of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, will now be responsible for organising the more than 80 MPs which make up the ERG – who plot their tactics via a WhatsApp group.
A source close to the ERG confirmed the move to HuffPost UK this afternoon.
The group supports the Government’s current position on Brexit - namely that the UK should leave the Single Market, the customs union and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
While Theresa May adopted that approach in her Lancaster House speech in January, the loss of the Tory majority in the General Election has raised fears that Brexit could be watered down in order to appease the pro-Europeans in her party.
If that is the case, the European Research Group may swing behind an alternative leader in order to push forward with Brexit.
Fernandes, 37, was first elected to Parliament in 2015, and served on the Education Select Committee in the last Parliament.
A Leave campaigner in the EU Referendum, Fernandes initially backed Michael Gove for the leadership of the party after David Cameron stepped down.
In a statement, Fernandes said: “The next two years will be crucial in the transition of the UK into a fully sovereign trading nation. I don’t believe in a ‘Hard Brexit’ or a ‘Soft Brexit’; rather, I am passionate about a pro-business and jobs-led Brexit which will increase our country’s prosperity.
“We can only do this by supporting the Prime Minister’s plan as set out in her Lancaster House speech and White Paper to leave the EU’s Customs Union and Single market and control our own laws and money. Only by doing this can the UK be free to strike new trade agreements around the world and fully benefit from Brexit.”
“There are exciting opportunities out there but this will require hard work in Government and Parliament. As Parliament debates the legislation necessary to ensure a smooth and proper Brexit, I wish to ensure the ERG plays its part in supporting Theresa May and her Government in making a prosperous Brexit a reality.”
Michael Tomlinson MP, Deputy Chairman of the ERG added: “I’m absolutely delighted that Suella is taking over from the excellent Steve Baker. She has the passion, enthusiasm and charisma to take the ERG from strength to strength as it plays its important role in supporting the government and making a success of Brexit.’
Fernandes is the daughter of immigrants, with her father coming to the UK from Kenya in the 1960s and her mother migrating to the UK from Mauritius to work as a nurse in the NHS.
In an interview with HuffPost UK shortly after she was elected, Fernandes raised concerns about the scale of immigration to Britain:
We have a great tradition of welcoming people to this country, whether they are asylum seekers seeking safety or whether it is to make a new life and contribute to Britain for prosperity.
Either way they are welcome and we are really rightly proud of that, but let’s be honest about what is happening in some parts of our country. In parts of Lincolnshire the rate of immigration is about 1000 per cent.
Parts of London – go to Bethnal Green in Tower Hamlets – then it doesn’t look…people don’t speak English. You’ve got aspects of culture and life ghettoisation which is not healthy and then we wonder why radicalisation and extremism takes place. There’s still resentment and racism we are only going to break those barriers down if we talk honestly about how people are coming to this country and what there attitudes are and what they have to do to integrate.
Sometimes politicians don’t want to go near this subject for fear of being called racist and we are the right people to embrace the issue in a fair and compassionate way.