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May is Urged to SACK Frontbenchers Over Brexit Letter

  • Eurosceptic group led by Tory frontbencher issued letter with demands on Brexit
  • Warned that single market and customs union must not be part of EU transition
  • Conservative Remainers voice fury at attempt to force PM into tougher line 
Theresa May (pictured in Downing Street yesterday) is facing a rebellion on two fronts as Tory Brexiteers and Remainers clash

Theresa May (pictured in Downing Street yesterday) is facing a rebellion on two fronts as Tory Brexiteers and Remainers clash

Theresa May is facing rebellion on two fronts as Tory Remainers urge her to sack frontbenchers over a letter warning against backsliding on Brexit.

The letter, circulated by a group chaired by ministerial aide Suella Fernandes and signed by dozens of MPs, said it would be a ‘historic mistake’ to stay in the single market or customs union after 2019.

But the message sparked fury from pro-EU Conservatives, who said it went beyond government policy. Brexit minister Steve Baker has also been criticised for posting to a WhatsApp group of Tories involved in the letter thanking ‘everyone for their support’.

The spat underlines the scale of the challenge for Mrs May to balance the hardline factions in her party.

During a Commons debate on the crucial EU Withdrawal Bill yesterday Tory MPs indicated they would not rebel at second reading stage on Monday.

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But there is huge scope for revolt later in the process, with warnings that hundreds of amendments could be tabled in a bid to soften the approach to Brexit.

The Brexiteer letter, which was due to have been released to a Sunday newspaper but was leaked to the BBC, says the UK must demand freedom to strike new trade deals during any transition – which appears to go further than the Government’s position.

‘When we leave in 2019 – we need to make sure we are well and truly out,’ the letter said.

It goes on: ‘Continued membership of the single market, even as part of a transitional arrangement, would quite simply mean EU membership by another name – and we cannot allow our country to be kept in the EU by stealth.

‘The Government must respect the will of the British people, and that means leaving the single market at the same time as we leave the EU.’

Miss Fernandes, chairman of group of MPs that circulated the letter, said last night that it was designed to show ‘support for the Government’s position’.

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Miss Fernandes is leader of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic MPs. However, as parliamentary aide to Chancellor Philip Hammond, her decision to go public with concerns about possible drift in government policy raised eyebrows among some MPs.

Tory MP Suella Fernandes, chairman of the European Research Group (ERG) of MPs that circulated the letter, said last night that it was designed to show 'support for the Government's position'

Tory MP Suella Fernandes, chairman of the European Research Group (ERG) of MPs that circulated the letter, said last night that it was designed to show ‘support for the Government’s position’

Former minister Anna Soubry (pictured left in parliament this week) accused Eurosceptic colleagues of trying to bind the Government’s hands. Pro-Remain Tory MP Nicky Morgan, now chair of the Treasury select committee, said the letter risked ‘undermining the UK’s negotiating process’

Pro-Remain Tory MP Nicky Morgan, now chair of the Treasury select committee, said the letter risked ‘undermining the UK’s negotiating process’.

She said frontbenchers should generally only sign documents issued by the government.

Another former minister, Anna Soubry, accused Eurosceptic colleagues of trying to bind the Government’s hands.

She said: ‘I am hugely disappointed, in the wake of the general election which saw the Conservatives lose our majority, that colleagues are seeking to bind the Government’s negotiating hands in such a way as to make the hard Brexit the country and the PM doesn’t want, inevitable.’

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Former minister Stephen Hammond told the Times any support from ministers or aides for the letter should be a resigning matter.

‘The European Research Group letter is an unacceptable attempt to hinder negotiations and jeopardise the government. It is entirely at odds with stated policy, which colleagues should be supporting, not undermining.

‘It would therefore be completely unacceptable for any minister or parliamentary private secretary to support it or encourage others to sign. They should either sign and resign or stay and support the government.’

A Downing Street spokesman played down the importance of the letter.

‘We haven’t agreed or announced or negotiated yet what the implementation period looks like,’ the spokesman said.

‘We have been perfectly clear that we want an implementation period. That’s government policy.’

Asked whether members of the Government who signed the ERG letter would be in breach of their responsibilities, the spokesman said: ‘People have their opinions, but we have set out what our intentions are.’

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