PM: We’ve 9 days to save Brexit

May is up for fight in ‘mo­men­tous’ days ahead of crunch vote No 10 fury over Min­is­ter’s ‘stab in the back’ res­ig­na­tion

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - From Glen Owen

THERESA May last night warned the coun­try she had ‘nine days to save Brexit’ – as her al­lies fumed at the ‘be­trayal’ by a Govern­ment Min­is­ter who quit over her deal with Brus­sels.

The Prime Min­is­ter told The Mail on Sun­day she would not be de­terred by the res­ig­na­tion of Uni­ver­si­ties Min­is­ter Sam Gy­imah over a de­mand for a se­cond ref­er­en­dum – and promised to fight tire­lessly dur­ing the ‘mo­men­tous’ days ahead to win the crunch Com­mons vote on De­cem­ber 11.

Her re­marks, at the G20 sum­mit of world lead­ers in Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina, came as:

A cross-party group of MPs tried to crank up the pres­sure on Mrs May to call a se­cond ref­er­en­dum;

At least eight Cabi­net Min­is­ters lob­bied for a Nor­way-style mem­ber­ship of a cus­toms union if Mrs May loses the vote;

Tony Blair re­vealed how the Govern­ment had lob­bied him to back Mrs May over her deal;

Ja­pan’s Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe used the sum­mit to is­sue an ap­peal to the Prime Min­is­ter to pre­vent a no-deal Brexit;

Mrs May sig­nalled her con­fi­dence that she would still be Prime Min­is­ter at Christ­mas by start­ing to send out of­fi­cial cards from No10;

A Tory MP ac­cused Mrs May of ‘snub­bing’ the Falk­lands by re­fus­ing to visit the dis­puted ter­ri­tory af­ter her trip to Ar­gentina.

Mr Gy­imah said he was re­sign­ing from the Govern­ment be­cause Mrs May’s deal would mean the UK los­ing its voice in the EU while still hav­ing to abide by the bloc’s rules.

He said: ‘In these pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions, our in­ter­ests will be re­peat­edly and per­ma­nently ham­mered by the EU27 for many years to come.

‘Bri­tain will end up worse off, trans­formed from rule mak­ers into rule tak­ers… To vote for this deal is to set our­selves up for fail­ure. We will be los­ing, not tak­ing con­trol, of our na­tional des­tiny.’

His move meant that the No 10 team in Buenos Aires spent Fri­day bat­tling in vain to avert his res­ig­na­tion – while jug­gling diplo­mat­i­cally fraught en­coun­ters with Don­ald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man.

They were also fu­ri­ous that Mr Gy­imah’s res­ig­na­tion – the sev­enth by a Min­is­ter over the is­sue – over­shad­owed a care­fully timed dec­la­ra­tion of sup­port by En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary and lead­ing Brex­i­teer Michael Gove. A se­nior source said: ‘It’s a stab in the back from some­one [Mr Gy­imah] who hopes to be leader. But the only per­son tip­ping Sam for leader is Sam.’

But Mrs May told this news­pa­per she ‘pro­foundly dis­agreed’ with Mr Gy­imah for want­ing a se­cond ref­er­en­dum and that vot­ing down her deal in an at­tempt to achieve it would end the Brexit project al­to­gether.

Mrs May said: ‘If you look around the Com­mons you will see peo­ple who are try­ing to frus­trate Brexit. We are nine days from the mean­ing­ful vote. At the end of those nine days we want to be able to look to a bright and cer­tain fu­ture.

‘This is a mo­men­tous pe­riod in our coun­try’s his­tory, and over the next nine days I want to fo­cus on the sig­nif­i­cance of this vote, be­cause it de­ter­mines our fu­ture’.

It is the se­cond time that Mrs May has been ‘be­trayed’ by a Min­is­ter over a se­cond ref­er­en­dum while she car­ried out for­eign du­ties. Last month, Trans­port Min­is­ter Jo John­son quit while she at­tended Re­mem­brance ser­vices in Eu­rope.

Mrs May in­sists she can still carry the vote through the Com­mons on De­cem­ber 11, de­spite cal­cu­la­tions that more than 100 Tory MPs could rebel. Asked by this news­pa­per if she ex­pected to be cel­e­brat­ing Christ­mas as Prime Min­is­ter, she said: ‘This has never been about me… ac­tu­ally over the next nine days I am not go­ing to be giv­ing Christ­mas much thought at all. I am go­ing to be fo­cus­ing on this deal.’

But it is un­der­stood that Mrs May has al­ready started send­ing the offi- cial Prime Min­is­te­rial Christ­mas cards. And she cited her crick­et­ing hero Ge­of­frey Boy­cott to say that over the next nine days she would make sure she was ‘steadily scor­ing those runs, get­ting that cen­tury’.

Mrs May, mak­ing the first visit to Buenos Aires by a Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter, added that she had used the G20 sum­mit ‘have a chat with Don­ald Trump… we both ac­knowl­edged we will be able to do a trade deal’.

Mr Gove warned yes­ter­day that leav­ing the EU would be un­der ‘great threat’ if the deal was re­jected by MPs. But Mrs May is com­ing un­der in­tense cross-party pres­sure to agree to a se­cond ref­er­en­dum if she loses the Com­mons vote, a move that would in­fu­ri­ate Tory pro-Brexit MPs. And she is also com­ing un­der in­tense pres­sure from Cabi­net Min­is­ters, led by Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond, and MPs to avert the dis­rup­tion of a ‘no deal’ by agree­ing to re­main in a cus­toms union with the EU – de­scribed as ‘a Nor­way-style Plan B’ op­tion – un­til the cri­sis can be re­solved. The num­ber of Cabi­net

Min­is­ters back­ing the plan is be­lieved to have reached eight.

Last night, a coali­tion of 17 Tory, Labour and Lib­eral Demo­crat MPs provoca­tively re­leased a joint state­ment call­ing for a se­cond ref­er­en­dum. The group, in­clud­ing Labour’s Chuka Umunna and Lu­ciana Berger along with for­mer Tory Min­is­ters Phillip Lee and Guto Bebb, de­scribed De­cem­ber 11 as ‘one of the big­gest votes since the Se­cond World War’ and said it ‘was clear it will not com­mand a ma­jor­ity’.

The group, which was last night hop­ing to add Mr Gy­imah’s name to the call, said it was ‘time the coun­try’s in­ter­ests are put be­fore any party po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage… it is vi­tal, given the speed with which events will un­fold, that we do not pre­var­i­cate dur­ing these his­toric events in en­sur­ing the peo­ple are given their right­ful seat at the ta­ble’.

But Mrs May – if she has not been top­pled as leader – will be sub­ject to equal lob­by­ing from Brex­i­teers to pur­sue a ‘man­aged no-deal’.

De­spite her pub­lic re­fusal to coun­te­nance a se­cond ref­er­en­dum – the so-called Peo­ple’s Vote – Brex­i­teers both in and out of the Cabi­net fear a ‘stitch up’ if Mrs May loses the vote and is un­able to re­sist the clam­our from Par­lia­ment for a fresh ref­er­en­dum.

One said: ‘The com­bi­na­tion of proRe­main Tories, most of the Labour Party and the in­stinc­tively an­tiBrexit Civil Ser­vice would want to join forces to cre­ate a bo­gus choice be­tween May’s duff deal and re­main­ing in the EU. We need to head that off now.’

Even for­mer Labour Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair has said the op­tions should be ‘the Boris John­son ver­sion of Brexit’ – a clean break – or re­main­ing in the EU.

Leave cam­paign­ers are con­fi­dent they can win a se­cond vote if a clean Brexit is one of the op­tions.

Ac­tivists as­so­ci­ated with both Vote Leave, the vic­to­ri­ous 2016 cam­paign group, and Leave Means Leave, the pres­sure group lob­by­ing for a clean Brexit, have al­ready started pre­par­ing for a se­cond ref­er­en­dum. Well-placed sources say their re­search in­di­cates the vote on both sides has hard­ened.

One cam­paign slo­gan that has been bandied around is: ‘Tell Them Again’ – the ‘them’ be­ing the po­lit­i­cal elite.

The MoS un­der­stands that Mr Blair held a se­cret meet­ing with a Govern­ment Min­is­ter who tried to per­suade him to back Mrs May’s deal in ex­change for a promise the UK would then pivot to a ‘soft’ Brexit.

Mr Blair told a pri­vate din­ner last week that he had been ap­proached by a Min­is­ter and asked if he would agree to drop his sup­port for a se­cond ref­er­en­dum.

The Min­is­ter told Mr Blair that if he backed Mrs May’s deal in­stead – to keep her in Down­ing Street – then ‘once we have got through Brexit we can switch to the Nor­way op­tion in­stead’.

Un­der the Nor­way op­tion, the UK would stay in the sin­gle mar­ket but could not con­trol free­dom of move­ment.

Mr Blair added that he had been in touch with lead­ers of EU coun­tries and they all thought Mrs May’s deal was ‘ab­so­lute folly’.

Mr Abe’s plea, de­liv­ered as he met Mrs May at the G20 sum­mit, fol­lows warn­ings from Ja­pa­nese com­pa­nies in the UK over the ex­tra costs and bu­reau­cracy they will face if there is no deal.

Mr Abe told the Prime Min­is­ter: ‘I would like to take this op­por­tu­nity to ex­press my trib­ute to your lead­er­ship in re­al­is­ing the with­drawal agree­ment as well as the EU’s agree­ment on the po­lit­i­cal dec­la­ra­tion. Also I would like to once again ask for your sup­port to avoid no deal, as well as to en­sure trans­parency, pre­dictabil­ity as well as le­gal sta­bil­ity in the Brexit process.’

Mrs May has been ac­cused of snub­bing the Falk­land Is­lands by re­fus­ing to visit the Bri­tish ter­ri­tory af­ter her trip to Ar­gentina, ac­cept­ing For­eign Of­fice ad­vice that it would be ‘provoca­tive’. But Tory MP Bob Ste­wart said: ‘To hell with the For­eign Of­fice.’

Last night, Mrs May bat­ted away claims that this could be her last ap­pear­ance on the in­ter­na­tional stage. She told re­porters at the sum­mit that she still had ‘a lot more to do, not least de­liver on Brexit and be the Prime Min­is­ter that took Bri­tain out of the EU’.

‘Af­ter Brexit we can switch to the Nor­way op­tion ’

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