Thursday, May 30

Tory rebels threaten beleaguered PM with SECOND Brexit defeat before Christmas



Theresa May has been warned by Tory rebels she faces a second embarrassing Commons defeat over Brexit before Christmas .

The threat was delivered to the Prime Minister as she jetted to Brussels for a critical EU summit on Thursday night which could derail her plans to exit the EU by the deadline of March 2019.

She was still reeling from the humiliation of losing her first Brexit vote after MPs won the power to amend the final divorce deal by four votes after members of her own party rebelled.

With Tory infighting threatening to engulf her, the PM desperately tried to launch a fight back on Thursday night.

She insisted she was on course to deliver on Brexit and told EU leaders at a private dinner she was personally committed to working with them to ensure a smooth and orderly exit.

She also tried to keep Brussels chiefs happy by confirming the UK will remain in the Erasmus student exchange programme until 2020.

But she faces another defeat next week – just five days before Christmas Day – over her plans to enshrine the date of Brexit in law.

The PM tabled an amendment to the Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill setting out that Britain will quit the bloc at 11pm on March 29 2019.

But critics have slammed the change as “ludicrous” and “silly” – and warned it could hamper Mrs May’s negotiations with Brussels.

A senior Government official on Thursday night told the Daily Mirror the PM had no plans to back down on her bid to rubber stamp the date.

The Tory MP said: “I hope very much [another rebellion] won’t be necessary because if the Government comes back with that date I’m sure the Government will be defeated and I have no desire to defeat the Government or be involved in the Government’s defeat a second time.”

But Mr Grieve added: I’m not very concerned about knives being out for me. I’m in parliament to do my duty by my constituents and by my country. I’m sorry to hear if colleagues think so ill of me but it’s not going to affect what I do one jot.

Mr Grieve on Thursday night revealed he had faced death threats and has reported the incidents to the police after leading the rebellion that resulted in the PM’s first defeat on Brexit.

He said: The thing which continues to cause me concern is not that people will disagree vigorously with the positions we take but that the atmosphere is so febrile that it leads firstly to people not listening to what the debate is about, secondly suggests that any questions around Brexit amount to an intention to sabotage and thirdly result in some people expressing themselves in terms that at times include death threats.

Death threats should have no part in the political process of a democracy.

Responding to reports of threats against Mr Grieve, a senior Government official said: Of course no politician should face intimidation or threats, full stop.

The Archbishop of Canterbury called for a Christmas truce in the increasingly bitter Brexit row.

 Justin Welby called for a “ceasefire” on the use of insults, personalised attacks and pejorative terms as the process of leaving the European Union continues.

His intervention came after Tory MP Nadine Dorries accused rebel colleague Mr Grieve of treachery after the Government was defeated in a vote on Brexit legislation.

It also emerged that Tory MP Sir Mike Penning declared you should be ashamed to rebel Tory MP Heidi Allen in the Commons chamber after Mrs May’s first defeat.

The ex-minister admitted confronting her but claimed it lasted about 15 seconds.

Fellow Tory MP Stephen Hammond, sacked as Conservative vice-chairman for voting against the Government, joined Mr Grieve in refusing to rule out voting against Mrs May next week.

He said: I hope I don’t have to rebel again. I think a lot of people will view that proposition as unnecessary, probably not a good way to negotiate.

And Tory grandee Ken Clarke blasted Mrs May’s plans to fix the Brexit date on the face of the bill as simply designed to cheer up Eurosceptics. He warned that rebels would remove it.

The move will inflame Tory infighting over the defeat, with Brexit MPs calling for the rebels to be deselected.

But Mr Clarke said: This amendment to the bill is quite unnecessary and in certain circumstances could be ludicrous when everybody from every country wants to carry on the negotiations and the British say I’m sorry; we’ve put it in an Act of Parliament that we are not allowed to extend it beyond 11 o’clock when the clock chimes.

Fellow Tory rebel and ex-education secretary Nicky Morgan also threatened to rebel next week over the plan to fix March 29 2019 as Brexit day.

She said: As we saw last week, negotiations aren’t always completed on time so having an exit date could be unhelpful.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson insisted Brexit was unstoppable and would not be held up by Tory rebels.

But Lib Dem Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake MP said: Theresa May needs to learn the lesson of last night’s defeat and announce that she is dropping her silly idea of enshrining the date of Brexit in law.

Parliament has now shown it is not prepared to be bullied.

There is no logical reason why ministers should want to tie their own hands. They should retain maximum flexibility to avoid a Conservative botched Brexit.

Arriving in Brussels for the EU council summit on Thursday night, the brazen PM set herself on a direct collision course with the Tory rebels.

Asked if she was prepared to compromise, she bluntly said the Government had won 35 out of 36 votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill.

She said she was disappointed at the vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill, but the legislation was making good progress.

On Thursday, at a private dinner with the other 27 EU leaders, Mrs May told them she was “personally committed” to Brexit.

And in a desperate plea to move on to trade talks as quickly as possible, she said she “makes no secret” of the fact she wants to shift onto the next phase early in 2018.

A senior Government official said Mrs May is aiming to tie up a transition agreement – for the period between 2019 and 2021 – by March next year.

EU chiefs are tomorrow expected to agree the UK and EU can move forward to trade talks.