Tory Brexiteers warned to back down from 'plot to topple Theresa May'

4 February 2018, 12:20

Leave-supporting Tory MPs have been warned to back down amid reports they could topple the Prime Minister if she does not deliver their version of Brexit.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd told Brexiteers the top level of Government is "more united than they think" on Britain's departure from the EU, ahead of negotiations on the UK's future relationship with the bloc.

The Cabinet minister also dismissed recent claims by some of her party colleagues that civil servants, working under Chancellor Philip Hammond at the Treasury, are agitating for Britain to retain close ties with the EU beyond 2019.

It follows a Sunday Times report that Brexit-backing Conservatives are plotting to install a "dream team" of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg in power if Theresa May attempts to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU.

Dubbed the "three Brexiteers", they would take on the roles, respectively, of Prime Minister, deputy Prime Minister, and Chancellor, according to the newspaper's report of the planned coup.

Posting on Twitter, veteran Remain-supporting Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames branded suggestions the trio could assume positions at the top of Government as "absolute b******s".

A sub-committee of top Cabinet ministers will meet on Wednesday and Thursday this week to thrash out an agreement on the UK's negotiating stance before the next round of Brexit talks with the EU, on a transitional deal and a future trade agreement.

One of the key issues to be decided by ministers will be whether or not to retain customs arrangements with the EU after Brexit, which could hinder the ability of the UK to sign future trade deals with non-EU countries beyond 2019.

Ahead of those meetings, Ms Rudd told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "I have a surprise for the Brexiteers, which is the committee that meets in order to help make these decisions is more united than they think.

"We meet in the committee. We meet privately for discussions. I think that we will arrive at something which suits us all.

"There will be choices to be made within that, but we all want the same thing which is to arrive at a deal which works for the UK."

Ms Rudd insisted she is "not intimidated at all" by those wanting the UK to steer clear of any form of customs union with the EU after Brexit, while she refused to comment on suggestions Mr Johnson is being encouraged to offer her the role of Chancellor in a future government, should he reach Number 10.

The Home Secretary also told Mr Rees-Mogg he was "wrong" to accuse Treasury officials of "fiddling the figures" in their Brexit forecasts, as he expressed his belief Mr Hammond's department is determined to keep the UK in the EU's customs union.

Housing minister Dominic Raab also rebuked his fellow Leave supporter Mr Rees-Mogg, who is the favourite to replace Mrs May as Tory leader among Conservative members.

Speaking to Sky News' Sunday with Niall Paterson show, Mr Raab admitted there are "inherent tensions in dealing with Brexit because different people take different views" within Government.

But he ruled out Britain remaining in "any form" of customs union with the EU after Brexit, adding: "If we were, we would have our hands tied in negotiating free trade deals with other parts of the world."

Offering his full backing to the Prime Minister, Mr Raab suggested Tory MPs should display "a team effort, a bit of discipline… [and] a bit of emotional intelligence" in order to focus on the "prize" of a Brexit deal.

Remain supporter Sarah Wollaston also used an appearance on the programme to warn Conservative colleagues off their "manoeuvres" against Mrs May.

"Undermining her leadership at such a crucial point in our negotiations is, I think, deeply unhelpful," she said.

"So I wish those Cabinet ministers that were out on manoeuvres would just row back, because what we need to be presenting is a united front."

Amid the continuing splits in the Conservative Party over Brexit, senior MP Bernard Jenkin used a Sunday Telegraph article to suggest "vague" and "divided" ministers had made life "impossible" for civil servants.

He wrote: "If the Prime Minister sticks to one policy and the Chancellor keeps advocating another, what are officials meant to do?"

Urging Mrs May to back a "clean Brexit", Mr Jenkin warned: "She can only command a majority in Parliament on her present policy".

The Prime Minister has repeatedly stated the UK will be leaving the EU's single market and customs union after Brexit.

Responding to the recent attacks on civil servants by Leave-supporting MPs, former head of the civil service Lord Turnbull accused Brexiteers of employing tactics similar to those adopted by German nationalists in the 1930s.

The crossbench peer told the Observer: "They are losing the argument in the sense that they are unable to make their extravagant promises stack up, and so they turn and say: 'Things would be OK if the civil service weren't obstructing us'."

Another former top Whitehall mandarin, Lord O'Donnell, accused Leave-supporting politicians of "selling snake oil".