Two leading cabinet ministers have cast doubt on the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy, signalling that it could be thrown out once Theresa May is ousted as Tory leader.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said Mrs May’s Chequers plan was the “right one for now” but could be altered in future to break away from EU regulations on goods.
And reports from last week’s marathon cabinet meeting on preparations for a no-deal Brexit revealed that Home Secretary Sajid Javid set out a “shock and awe” plan to cut taxes and regulation.
It came as the Prime Minister admitted to being “irritated” at constant speculation about her leadership, and said she was still “bloody difficult”.
Mr Javid, tipped as a future Tory leader, is said to have set out a “huge shopping list” of policies, including slashing EU environmental protections and workers’ rights.
The Prime Minister’s proposal to effectively keep the UK in the European market for goods has come under attack from all sides, with Brussels saying it will not tolerate any division of the single market, and MPs from all parties condemning it as unacceptable.
Mrs May’s Brexit blueprint has particularly infuriated hardline Brexiteers and sparked the resignations of Boris Johnson and David Davis.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, Mr Gove admitted the Chequers proposals had forced him to compromise on some of his beliefs, but insisted the most important issue now was ensuring Britain leaves the European Union in “good order”.
However, asked if the plan would be permanent, Mr Gove said the “critical thing” was that “a future prime minister could always choose to alter the relationship between Britain and the European Union”.
He added: “The Chequers approach is the right one for now because we have got to make sure that we respect that vote and take advantage of the opportunities of being outside the European Union.”
Mr Gove said the responsibility was now on the European Union to compromise “because we’ve shown flexibility”.
“I’ve compromised,” he added. “I’ve been quite clear that some of the things that I argued for in the referendum passionately, as a result of Chequers I have to qualify one or two of my views.
“I have to acknowledge the parliamentary arithmetic.
“I believe the critical thing is making sure we leave in good order with a deal which safeguards the referendum mandate.”
Meanwhile, Mrs May has admitted she gets “irritated” by the debate over her leadership and lashed out at possible successor Boris Johnson.
The Prime Minister insisted she was focused on the country’s future rather than her own, in a BBC interview to mark the six-month countdown to Brexit.
Mrs May criticised Mr Johnson for using “completely inappropriate” language when he described her Brexit strategy as putting the UK in a “suicide vest”.
Around 50 Brexiteers met to war-game ways to oust the Prime Minister on Tuesday evening and Mr Johnson is widely-expected to vie to replace Mrs May.
Asked if she would reassure the Conservative party she was not determined to go on and on, the PM told the BBC’s Panorama: “I get a little bit irritated but this debate is not about my future, this debate is about the future of the people of the UK and the future of the United Kingdom.
“That’s what I’m focused on and that’s what we should all be focused on.
“It’s ensuring that we get that good deal from the European Union which is good for people in the UK, wherever they live in the UK, that’s what’s important for us ... It’s the future of people in the UK that matters.”
Mrs May was once described as “bloody difficult woman” by former Cabinet minister Ken Clarke, and later claimed the description as a badge of honour.