Fury at Tory ‘collaborators’ threatening to side with Labour in battle over Brexit
Rebels could put Corbyn in Downing St
‘Voting with them beyond the pale’
TORY Remainers were branded ‘collaborators’ last night as they threatened to side with Labour to frustrate Brexit in Parliament.
As the EU Withdrawal Bill began its detailed scrutiny in the Commons, the rebel group said they were ready to inflict a series of damaging defeats on the Government.
They served notice that they would join forces with Labour to oppose the Government on the detail of the legislation – including Theresa May’s bid to enshrine the Brexit date in law.
It came after almost 20 Tory rebel MPs held a ‘stormy’ meeting with party whips at which they refused to back down – despite warnings they risked bringing Jeremy Corbyn to power.
Labour also faced divisions, with former minister Frank Field being heckled by fellow Labour MPs as he warned they needed ‘educating’ on the level of support for leaving the EU among party supporters.
But the scale of the revolt on the Tory benches creates the real risk of Government defeats in the coming weeks.
Veteran Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash accused his pro-Remain colleagues of ‘collaboration with Labour’ – and said voting with the opposition on Brexit would be ‘beyond the pale’.
Sir Bill, chairman of the European scrutiny committee, said Tory ‘dissidents’ were playing into the hands of those in the ‘unelected House of Lords’ who want to reverse the referendum result.
He warned they risked sparking a constitutional crisis which would ‘probably take us into the sphere of a general election and danger of a Corbynista government, which as good Conservatives they must abhor’.
The legislation cleared its first parliamentary hurdles last night, with MPs voting by 318 to 52 to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, which enshrines the supremacy of EU law in this country. But Downing Street is braced for a difficult few weeks ahead. It came as:
Brexit Secretary David Davis sought to ease business concern by saying agreement on a twoyear transitional deal could be struck ‘very early next year’;
Theresa May’s policy chief George Freeman faced criticism after warning that a bad Brexit deal could turn Britain into ‘an old people’s home’;
Nicola Sturgeon warned Mrs May the Scottish parliament could refuse consent for the EU Withdrawal Bill;
The European Parliament’s Guy Verhofstadt suggested a deadline to begin trade talks next month would be missed as there had been ‘no progress’ on divorce negotiations.
Labour yesterday confirmed it would try to vote down attempts to fix the date of Britain’s exit from the EU in law – raising doubts about whether the UK will leave.
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve, the leader of the Tory Remainers, described Brexit as an ‘extraordinary painful process of national self-mutilation’. In a reference to the whips’ tactics, he said he would not be ‘ordered’ to back down.
He rounded on Sir Bill’s claim of ‘collaboration’, pointing out that Sir Bill had rebelled against John Major’s government during the debates on the Maastricht Treaty 25 years ago.
A hard core of nine Tory MPs have signed 19 amendments to the Government’s legislation. But their numbers could more than double on some issues – meaning that even with the support of the DUP and Labour rebels, the Government’s majority could be in jeopardy.
Former business minister Anna Soubry confirmed that a group of 18 Tory rebels had had a bust-up with chief whip Julian Smith.
She added: ‘It was stormy... the date going into the Bill has really upset a lot of really topquality backbench Conservative MPs.’
But former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said MPs had effectively approved the exit date when they voted to invoke the two-year Article 50 process in March this year.