Ken Clarke has demanded Theresa May ignore the “right-wing nationalist” Tory MPs who are threatening to sink her Brexit deal.
Speaking during PMQs on Wednesday, the veteran europhile Conservative said the only way the prime minister would win the upcoming Commons vote on the deal would be to “courageously” gain the support of pro-EU Labour MPs.
“Does she equally accept the maths make it obvious that majority can only be obtained if the agreement retains the support of pro-European Conservative backbenchers in this House and also wins the support of a significant number of Labour backbenchers,” he said.
Clarke said this would “reveal the hardline eurosceptic views of the Bennites on the Labour frontbench and the right-wing nationalists in our party are a minority in this parliament”.
Jeremy Corbyn has all but confirmed he will order his MPs to vote against May’s Brexit deal in order to try and force a general election.
But it was reported today that up to 30 Labour MPs are considering defying their leader to vote with the government – largely out of a fear the alternative would be for the UK to crash out of the EU with no deal at all.
Brexiteer Tory backbenchers have claimed around 40 Conservatives are prepared to vote against May’s proposal, because it keeps the UK too closely tied to Brussels.
Downing Street could afford to see a number of Tories rebel as long as enough Labour MPs back the plan.
Although a spokesman for the prime minister said today: “The only votes she can depend on as leader of the Conservative party are Conservative ones.”
May today urged MPs across the Commons to act in the national interest and back her Brexit deal amid warnings that “decisive” progress is needed in the negotiations before a crunch Brussels summit next week.
The negotiations are reaching a critical stage ahead of next week’s European Council summit.
The October 18 meeting was initially framed as the deadline for agreement on the terms of UK withdrawal from the EU, as well as the publication of a political declaration on future relations in areas such as trade and security.
But with both sides confirming that differences remain on issues such as the status of the Irish border, expectations are growing that the final moment of decision will be put back to a special summit in November.