CONSPIRACY IN SMITH SQUARE
Tory rebel Dominic Grieve insists he’s not out to destroy Brexit. So what was he doing addressing a secretive meeting in the EU’s London HQ of those plotting to reverse it?
TORY rebel Dominic Grieve was accused of ‘supping with the devil’ last night after he held secret talks with avowed enemies of Brexit.
He was spotted slipping into the European Commission’s Smith Square HQ in London yesterday for a private meeting
of campaigners set on reversing the result of the referendum.
Attendees included Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell and Tory and Lib Dem peers who have rebelled over Brexit. Also
were leaders of People’s Vote, which campaigns for a second referendum, Open Britain, the successor organisation to the official Remain campaign, and Best for Britain, the anti-Brexit group backed by financier George Soros.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading Tory Leaver, said last night: ‘Dominic should be careful about the company he keeps if he wishes to maintain his position that this is not about stopping Brexit.
‘He is someone I trust and when he says he is not trying to frustrate Brexit I believe him but the people he is associating with are clear they do want to stop Brexit.
‘If you sup with the devil you should use a long spoon and he is using an egg spoon.’
The Smith Square EU building, which is a short walk from Parliament, was once Tory Central Office and the scene of Margaret Thatcher’s election triumph of 1979. But it was sold to the EU in 2007 and is now called Europe House.
An agenda for the ‘ Where Next for Brexit?’ meeting was marked ‘in confidence’ but seen by the Mail. It says: ‘This informal forum connects the main operational UK pro-EU organisations and individuals and meets under the Chatham House Rule.’
This rule holds that the discussions should not be made public.
Mr Grieve was expected to talk about the EU Withdrawal Bill, which caused parliamentary turmoil this week.
The QC and former attorney general led a group of 13 Tory MPs who forced Theresa May into making concessions on Tuesday evening.
Despite insisting they are not trying to reverse Brexit, the MPs are threatening to back a House of Lords amendment that would make it impossible to leave the EU without a ‘deal’. It would also put Parliament in charge of the final stage of the negotiations. Minutes
‘They will stop at nothing’
after Mr Grieve left yesterday’s meeting the participants started planning on a campaign for a second referendum to stop Brexit.
Mr Rees-Mogg said it was ‘completely improper’ for the Commission to allow its buildings ‘to be used in a domestic political controversy’.
‘We fund the EU and it should not use our money to interfere in our domestic affairs,’ he said.
Sir Bill Cash, the chairman of the Commons European scrutiny committee, said: ‘It’s clear that Mr Grieve is consorting with those people who are all intent on reversing Brexit.
‘It makes his claim that he is trying to be helpful to the Government transparent nonsense.’
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘I’m surprised if he is meeting with a whole load of people whose sole purpose is to stop Brexit when he has said it is not his intention to do so.’
A senior ministerial source said: ‘This is clear evidence that a certain group of MPs will stop at nothing to keep us in the EU.’
Mr Grieve said it was ‘rubbish’ to suggest the meeting revealed his true intentions. He also claimed the invitation was made ‘a long time ago’.
‘They asked me to go along and explain something about what was going on in Parliament, just as I go and talk to all sorts of groups,’ Mr Grieve said.
‘If I was invited by an audience that was interested in the issue that were Leavers I would go as well. We live in a democratic country where people engage with all sorts of people.’
The revelations came on another day of drama in Westminster during which:
Theresa May was locked in talks with Mr Grieve and other Tory rebels over their demand that MPs should be given the power to ‘direct’ Brexit policy, which critics claim could lead to the UK staying in the EU;
Leading Conservative Remainer Anna Soubry warned MPs it was time to tell leave voters to ‘suck it up’ and accept that Britain was staying in the single market and would have to accept free movement;
Six Labour MPs resigned from the front bench to vote to keep Britain in the single market, as Jeremy Corbyn suffered a major rebellion over the issue;
Reports claimed that Miss Soubry and Labour MP Chuka Umunna have used cross-party anti-Brexit talks to discuss the formation of a new party called Back Together;
Eurosceptic Tory Daniel Kawczynski urged voters to ‘ hold to account’ rebel MPs trying to thwart Brexit;
CBI chief Paul Drechsler warned parts of the car industry would become ‘extinct’ unless the UK stayed in the customs union.
Mr Campbell was seen entering Europe House shortly after 10.30am yesterday. Mr Grieve followed just before 10.45am. Shortly afterwards came Tom Baldwin, who was Labour ex-leader Ed Miliband’s spin doctor and now works for People’s Vote, and James McGrory, the former communications director at Stronger In, the official Remain campaign, who now works for Open Britain.
Mr Grieve left just before midday. Most of the other participants left around 1pm, including Baroness Altmann, the anti-Brexit Tory peer, Patience Wheatcroft, the Tory peer and former newspaper editor who has backed a second referendum and has argued ‘we have to stop Brexit’, and the Lib Dem Brexit spokesman in the Lords, Sarah Ludford.
They were joined by AC Grayling, the philosopher who has said it was wrong to ‘normalise acceptance of leaving the EU’.
The meeting reveals that separate Remainer groups are coordinating to try to stop Britain’s departure from the EU. On Tuespresent
‘Came in huffing and puffing’
day night Mr Grieve told the Commons he was not trying to prevent Brexit but ‘legitimately looking at the detail of one of the most complex legal and political exercises in which we have ever engaged in peacetime’.
In an interview with The Guardian last month, he backed another national poll to ask the public ‘is
this what you really want?’ but also claimed he was ‘not working to precipitate it’.
Last night he rebelled against the Government to vote in favour of Britain joining the European Economic Area, which would mean staying in the single market.
A Commission spokesman said it did not organise the Smith Square meeting and suggested it may have been booked by an MEP who can use rooms in the building for free.
The spokesman confirmed that no Commission officials attended the meeting.
A spokesman for ‘ Where Next for Brexit’ said: ‘ Pro-Europeans meeting to discuss Europe and inviting pro-European guest speakers should not surprise anyone.
‘It is extraordinary that this should be regarded as a news story.’
Mr Umunna’s calls for a new party, reported by the New Statesman, were made at a meeting of a ProRemain grassroots campaign group.
A source told the magazine: ‘ He came in, huffing and puffing, saying that he’d had enough of Labour’.
Miss Soubry has reportedly told fellow MPs ‘Chuka and I are looking at what the future brings’.
HOW very revealing that Tory Dominic Grieve’s first port of call yesterday morning, after he’d held the Government to ransom over the Brexit Bill, was a gathering of extremist Remoaners at the London offices of the European Commission.
What is it the former attorney general fails to understand about democracy, loyalty to party and country – and the word ‘leave’?
Interviewed on Tuesday, the ineffably selfsatisfied Mr Grieve (who is half-French) insisted his continuing threats of rebellion over the Brexit legislation had nothing to do with forcing a second referendum.
No, he just wanted to ‘manage what is an extremely risky and complex process as well as possible’. Or so he claimed.
What, then, explains his morning visit to Europe House, Westminster (and how bitterly ironic that this used to be Conservative Central Office in the days of that great British patriot Margaret Thatcher, who stood no nonsense from the EU)?
At this confidential meeting – whose proceedings were relayed within minutes to City fixer Roland Rudd, known as the ‘Godfather of Remain’ – there were only three items on the draft agenda: an introduction; the speech by Mr Grieve; and an update of progress in campaigning for… wait for it… a second referendum.
As for the guest list, this reads like a rollcall of the country’s most embittered crusaders against Brexit: Alastair Campbell, liar- in- chief to Tony Blair; Baroness ‘we must stop Brexit’ Wheatcroft ( who, irony of ironies, used to be a passionate Brexiteer); Tom Baldwin, Ed Miliband’s foul-mouthed spin doctor...
There, too, was philosopher AC Grayling, who has said the EU is as ‘ brave and beautiful as anything in European history’; and Baroness Altmann, who has repeatedly voted against the Government on key Brexit votes, while threatening to leave the Tory Party if it pursues a ‘hard’ Brexit.
If Mr Grieve wants only to make a success of Brexit, why is he consorting with people like this on EU diplomatic premises?
Like all Tory candidates, he fought the election on a manifesto pledge to honour the referendum, with a specific promise to pull out of the EU’s single market and customs union. Yet here he is, meeting those involved in a highly organised project to sabotage the will of the British people.
We don’t deny Mr Grieve his right to his beliefs. But we do question his loyalty, his commitment to democracy – and, most of all, his claim that his proposed changes to the Brexit Bill are not intended to scupper our departure.
Exit: Mr Campbell leaves the meeting
Talks: Dominic Grieve in Smith Square
Election victory: Margaret and Denis Thatcher in Smith Square in 1979