Theresa May risks splitting the Tories from the top down if she relies on Labour votes to get her controversial Brexit plan through the Commons, hard Brexiteer Jacob Rees Mogg has warned.
On a day of drama in Westminster which saw Boris Johnson resign as Foreign Secretary over May’s Brexit policy, Rees-Mogg hit out at special briefings being given to opposition MPs by Downing Street to get support for the so-called Chequers Agreement.
Speaking outside a room where the Prime Minister was seeking to reassure Tory MPs that she was the right person to lead the country in negotiations with Brussels, the North East Somerset MP said he hoped May would change her policy.
While Rees-Mogg was addressing journalists outside the Westminster committee room hosting the parliamentary party, veteran MPs on the inside were reminding colleagues how “awful” life was when the Tories were divided under John Major’s leadership in the 1990s.
The crunch meeting came fewer than 24 hours after Brexit Secretary David Davis and his junior minister Steve Baker quit the Government – with Johnson following on Monday afternoon.
Rees-Mogg said: “There’s one issue of grave concern, and that is the Government has been briefing Labour Members of Parliament.
“If the Government plans to get the Chequers deal through on the back of Labour Party votes that would be the most divisive thing it could do and it would be a split coming from the top, not from the members of the Conservative Party across the country.”
When asked if he believed he could change May’s Brexit policy, Rees-Mogg replied: “The Prime Minister has said on previous occasions she won’t change things and change then happens.
“You should believe the Prime Minister in the broad context of what she said, but not always on the specificalities.”
Rees-Mogg, who chairs the 80-strong faction of Tory Brexiteers known as the European Research Group, said May’s earlier statement in the Commons explaining the Chequers agreement in greater deal gave him “no reassurance”.
He added: “What has really clarified my thinking is the resignation of two of the most important members of Cabinet.
“When the results from Chequers came out I was deeply concerned but it had been accepted, ostensibly, by the people in the Cabinet who I have very great respect for.
“Therefore, I thought it must be alright, there must be some devil in the detail that was fine.
“With their resignations I know that that’s not the case.”
May entered the meeting of the Tory backbench committee, known as the 1922, at just before 5.45pm and left just after an hour.
As well as the usual backbenchers, cabinet colleagues also attended the special gathering.
Business Secretary Greg Clark began the cheering for the PM as she entered the room, which was so full that late-comers including Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes was turned away.
May provoked cries of “No!” from MPs after she quipped that she was going on a walking holiday this summer – the same vacation where she decided to call the disastrous 2017 General Election.
According to a senior Cabinet Minister in the room, it was “a strong coming together of the party”, who found unity in their opposition to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister.
They said: “The argument that really cut through was unless we pull together we end up with Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister and nobody wants to see that, and it was really powerful the comments from the MPs who were here before ’97 talking about how awful life was when the Conservative Party isn’t united.”
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