Theresa May was last night facing intense pressure to scrap her planned Brexit deal with Jeremy Corbyn after sacked Cabinet Minister Gavin Williamson launched a devastating attack on her ‘betrayal’.
Mr Williamson – fired as Defence Secretary after Mrs May blamed him for a security leak – uses an incendiary article in today’s Mail on Sunday to condemn the proposed cross-party accord as a ‘grave mistake’ and ‘naive’. The attack came as:
Mr Williamson’s powerful remarks – his first public intervention on the Brexit impasse since leaving the Cabinet – reveal the groundswell of opposition to Mrs May’s plan in her own party. He describes the talks as ‘destined to fail’, and says that even if Labour does agree a deal, it ‘can only end in tears’.
Mr Williamson said: ‘These talks… are a betrayal of the direct instructions the people gave us in 2016 and 2017.’
His warning has been echoed by International Trade Secretary Dr Fox, who has told friends that if Mrs May signs up to a customs ‘arrangement’ which jeopardises his ability to strike deals with non-EU countries, he could walk out of the Cabinet.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt are all said to be ‘of a similar mind’.
Despite the mounting opposition, a defiant Mrs May is determined to push ahead. The Government will hold a full session of talks with Labour tomorrow, during which it will formally table its offer on customs arrangements and protections for workers’ rights.
Officials will also discuss the proposed changes with the EU, and take legal advice on how to incorporate them into the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, for which Mrs May is desperately hoping to win Commons approval before the European elections on May 23.
As the Tory Party’s all-powerful Chief Whip, Gavin Williamson boasted an encyclopedic knowledge of its ever-shifting factions.
The former Defence Secretary has now applied that cold logic to the Prime Minister’s attempts to strike an accord with Labour to win Commons support for her Brexit deal – and concluded it is ‘futile’.
Writing exclusively in The Mail on Sunday today, Mr Williamson says, devastatingly, that even if Labour does agree a deal it ‘can only end in tears’.
Mr Williamson, who was sacked from the Government after an inquiry concluded that he had leaked information to the Daily Telegraph about plans to give Chinese firm Huawei a role in the UK’s 5G network, writes: ‘The Prime Minister needs to understand that she now is seen by many in the Conservative Party as negotiating with the enemy.
‘The Conservative Party will not march through the lobbies with the Prime Minister to back any old agreement, especially if it is far removed from the Brexit that was promised. This leaves us with a series of knife-edge votes, at which the Government will likely suffer a number of defeats.’
He adds: ‘It is politically naive to go down this route. [Mrs May] needs to recognise that futile efforts to pull off this Labour deal are damaging us all.
‘It is a grave mistake for any Prime Minister to fail to recognise when a plan will not work, and it is fatal to press on regardless.’
But Mrs May remains defiant.
The Government will hold a full session of talks with Labour tomorrow, during which it will formally table its offer on customs arrangements and protections for workers’ rights and the environment.
Officials will also discuss the proposed changes with the European Union, and take legal advice on how to incorporate them into the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, for which Mrs May is desperately hoping to win Commons approval before the European Parliament elections on May 23.
She is also facing intense pressure from within her Cabinet if she strikes a compromise with Jeremy Corbyn which would keep the UK in a customs union after leaving the EU.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, a former loyalist, has told friends that a customs union would be a ‘red line’ for him.
His stance has been echoed by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said he expected Brexit talks with Labour to ‘peter out’ within days. He told the BBC: ‘If the customs union is agreed without a second referendum then half the Labour Party won’t vote for whatever comes through regardless. And if a customs union is agreed then most of the Conservative Party isn’t going to support it. I suspect it will peter out in the next few days without any significant conclusion.’ But a Government source said: ‘If the Bill had passed, we would have left the EU already.
‘And because Parliament has made it clear it won’t accept No Deal, the only way to leave and deliver on the referendum is with a deal.’
An ally of Mrs May said: ‘The Prime Minister has done everything conceivable to deliver Brexit – and even announced she would step down after phase one of the talks in order to get a deal over the line. She remains focused on delivering Brexit as soon as possible so that we have left the EU by the summer.’
A spokesman for Dr Fox said: ‘Liam is applying all his energies to ensuring that we don’t enter a customs union. He has not had any discussions with other Cabinet members about walking out.
‘He has made clear that he intends to stay around the Cabinet table to ensure that Brexit is delivered.’
Last night, the scale of Mrs May’s difficulties was highlighted by an Opinium poll which put Nigel Far-age’s Brexit Party on 21 per cent in national voting, only one per cent behind the Conservatives on 22, with Labour on 28. Among European election voters, the Brexit Party was on 34 per cent – more than the combined vote of Labour on 21 and the Tories on 11, indicating that support for the Conservatives has collapsed amid the Brexit uncertainty.
Adam Drummond, head of political polling at Opinium, said: ‘The fact that a party that is less than six months old is now vying with the governing party for second place is remarkable.’
The Lib Dems perform the best of any of the openly anti-Brexit parties, one point ahead of the Tories on 12 per cent.
Mrs May is also close to losing her lead over Mr Corbyn as to who voters regard as the best Prime Minister. Her lead has dropped from four points to just one.
Brexit must happen. MPs need to deliver the referendum result and honour our promise to the electorate in 2017. It is tempting to think the easiest way to achieve this is to sit across the table from the Labour Party, do a deal and deliver Brexit. It sounds so simple and so reasonable, but it is destined to fail.
Even if Labour do a deal, break bread with the Prime Minister and announce that both parties have reached an agreement, it can only ever end in tears.
Why do I say this? Coming from a Labour-voting family, I grew up with a clear understanding of the tribal nature of Labour politics. The Labour Party does not exist to help the Conservative Party.
Jeremy Corbyn will do all he can to divide, disrupt and frustrate the Conservatives in the hope of bringing down the Government. His goal, and he has made no secret of it, is to bring about a General Election.
The Prime Minister needs to understand that she now is seen by many in the Conservative Party as negotiating with the enemy. There is a clue in their title: Her Majesty’s Official Opposition.
Their priority is to derail the Government. When push comes to shove, the Labour Party will do all they can to cause the Government to fail.
Even if we get to a point where Jeremy Corbyn agrees a deal with the Prime Minister, when it comes to detailed scrutiny of the votes, Labour will revert to form. It will be an almost unprecedented challenge to guide the necessary legislation through the House of Commons. Even if it passes the first few votes, it will fail later.
The initial thinking is that combining Labour and Conservative forces will easily pass any legislation, but there are some tough realities.
Numbers mean everything in the House of Commons. The Conservative Party will not march through the lobbies with the Prime Minister to back any old agreement, especially if it is far removed from the Brexit that was promised. If she is able to gain the support of the bulk of the Conservative parliamentary party, she will be doing exceptionally well, but in reality we could end up with a situation where she goes through the lobbies with less than half the Conservative MPs. The only people on whom she can depend are those on the payroll.
We then turn to Labour. Labour are as divided on the issue of Brexit as the Conservatives. There could potentially be up to 80 Labour MPs who are so committed to a second referendum, a so-called People’s Vote, that they will vote against any deal agreed by the Labour front bench. The Liberal Democrats, SNP and Change UK will all be voting against any deal she puts forward, because what they want is not to facilitate our exit from the EU, but to ensure that we stay.
This leaves us with a series of knife-edge votes, at which the Government will likely suffer a number of defeats.
Even if an agreement is voted through, by the time it has gone through both the House of Commons and House of Lords, it will be a very different bill to what was first proposed.
This is when Labour will finally kill it, if they have not done so already. Labour will be able to credibly say it is not what was originally agreed between them and the Prime Minister.
It is politically naive to go down this route. It will struggle to deliver the numbers for votes and it separates the Prime Minister from her own parliamentary party. And importantly, it has frustrated many of the people who voted Conservative in the 2017 General Election.
This creates enormous problems for the future and is something that should be avoided at all costs. The nation is expecting us to deliver Brexit and to move on. The Prime Minister needs to recognise that futile efforts to pull off this Labour deal are damaging us all.
It is a grave mistake for any Prime Minister to fail to recognise when a plan will not work and it is fatal to press on regardless. It is vital that imagination and boldness are now deployed, accepting that these Labour talks, which have gone on for weeks, are never going to provide the solution to the problem the Prime Minister faces.
The Conservative Party needs to be the party that delivers on its promises. If it is able to do this, it will flourish and be the party that voters know they can trust. We need to accept that these talks with Labour are fruitless and that not only will they not deliver the Brexit that people voted for, they are a betrayal of the direct instructions the people gave us in 2016 and 2017.
We are now at a crossroads and it is imperative the Prime Minister makes the right choice.
In order to deliver Brexit, there has to be a clear-sighted determination of what you are wanting to deliver, as opposed to delivering the lowest common denominator.
The only way to deliver anything is by ensuring you have your own tribe and your own people with you 100 per cent of the way.
This is what has to be delivered – not doing a deal with Labour.
The Brexit Party will earn more votes than Labour and the Conservatives combined in the European Parliament elections, a new poll claims.
Nigel Farage’s new party is slated to be a formidable force in May’s upcoming ballot, predicted to score 34 per cent of the vote – compared to Labour’s 21 per cent and the Tories’ 11 per cent, according to the latest Opinium poll for the Observer.
The strongest force among the anti-Brexit parties appears to be the Liberal Democrats, who are slated to win just 12 per cent of votes – one point ahead of Theresa May’s party.
The Greens would score just eight per cent in the European elections, followed by UKIP and the SNP on four per cent and Change UK on just three per cent, the data says.
The new poll also marks Labour as the most popular choice in the event of a general election – with Mr Corbyn’s party predicted to win 28 per cent of the vote, followed by the Conservatives on 22 per cent and the Brexit Party on 21 per cent.
Depending on how the votes were distributed, this could see another hung parliament, with deals between party leaders being made to form a coalition government – or a minority government being formed, with no party having an overall majority.
Nigel Farage has said that his new party would ‘break the two-party system’, claiming that ‘millions of people would give up on’ the two major parties if Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn reached a Brexit deal.
Appearing at a rally today while campaigning in Sunderland, Mr Farage told his supporters that Mrs May’s Brexit deal is ‘like a surrender document of a nation that has been defeated in war’.
Mr Farage met with former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe and spoke at a party event at the 2,000-seat Rainton Meadows Arena in Houghton this afternoon, and was cheered by hundreds of people at the rally where he lambasted both the Tory government and the Labour leadership.
Mr Farage said: ‘It (Brexit) hasn’t happened partly because of the dishonest, duplicitous and utterly useless Prime Minister in Theresa May.
‘No question, she is the worst Prime Minister in the history of this country, bar none.’
He told the rally Mrs May’s deal would be a new EU treaty ‘that will cost us, for reasons I’ve yet to understand, £39 billion… a treaty that may well leave us trapped inside the EU’s custom union in perpetuity’.
He added: ‘This treaty that she wants to put through is more like a surrender document of a nation that has been defeated in war.’
‘She has humiliated our country on the international stage and I’ve had enough of it. ‘
Two weeks ago Mr Farage’s party was tied with Jeremy Corbyn’s on 28 per cent, but a campaign of rallies across the country – often targeting traditionally Labour-voting areas in northern England – seems to be growing more and more support for the former UKIP leader.
Adam Drummond, head of political polling at Opinium, said Mr Farage was capitalising on a clear pro-Brexit position, whilst Remain supporters are forced to choose between several parties – although 57 per cent would like to see a pro-Remain alliance.
He said: ‘On the European elections, while the question of which party Brexit voters should back was settled some time ago, the equivalent for Remain voters is still ambiguous.
‘The picture is most stark when we split out Leave and Remain voters – while 63 per cent of Leavers say they will vote for the Brexit Party in the European elections, the most popular party among Remainers (still Labour) only has 31 per cent versus 22 per cent for the Lib Dems and 14 per cent for the Greens.
‘Interestingly, Brexit voters have deserted the Tories to such an extent that the Conservatives actually have a higher share of the European vote among Remainers (12 per cent) than among Leavers (11 per cent).’
Meanwhile, voting intentions for the Westminster elections show the Brexit Party would also be snapping at the Tories’ heels in a general election.
Labour is out in front with 28 per cent support, followed by the Tories on 22 per cent, the survey shows, but the Brexit Party is just behind on 21 per cent.
Mr Drummond said it was ‘remarkable’ the new party could be on the cusp of overtaking the party of government.
Although Mr Drummond cautioned the European election in less than two weeks could be ‘bleeding into’ and ‘inflating’ the Westminster results, he said the level of support was still notable.
‘It would be reasonable to assume that this would fall back in an actual general election campaign, but the fact a party that is less than six months old is now vying with the governing party for second place is remarkable,’ he said.
‘The Tories’ reliance on Leave voters seemed sensible in the aftermath of the referendum.
‘But raising expectations of the kind of deal the UK could get and using the phrase ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ so relentlessly was always going to open the party up to this kind of challenge once those expectations could not be met.’
The two main parties, Labour and the Conservatives, continue to drop votes, with Labour falling five points and the Tories four in the last fortnight.
But the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats are reaping the rewards of public frustration and are both on the up, with the former rising five points and the latter four – taking the Lib Dems to fourth place with 11 per cent.
The Brexit Party’s Twitter page has repeatedly posted a clip of Labour peer Andrew Adonis speaking on LBC, saying: ‘If you’re a Brexiteer, I hope you won’t vote for the Labour Party because the Labour Party is moving increasingly against Brexit’.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mrs May last week made a desperate appeal to Jeremy Corbyn to ‘do a deal’ to help push through her Brexit deal – offering concessions to Labour on policies such as a customs union, angering Leavers within her own party.
Eurosceptics reacted with fury to the plan for a so-called ‘customs framework’ or ‘customs arrangement’, describing it as ‘abject surrender’.
This latest poll appears to show a dissatisfaction with both Labour and the Tories, who suffered losses in the local elections earlier this month.
The poll will likely add to the pressure that is rising within Mrs May’s party for her to set a departure date.
The Prime Minister is set to meet with the executive of the Conservative backbencher 1922 Committee next week, where it is thought the PM and her MPs will come to an ‘understanding’ as to when she will leave No 10.
The Opinium poll featured data from 2,004 people, taken online between May 8 and May 10.