Theresa May offered an olive branch to Scottish Tories angered by talk of keeping the UK under EU fishing rules as Conservative MPs staged a show of loyalty last night.
Appearing before a packed meeting of the powerful backbench 1922 Committee, the Prime Minister adressed concerns about a possible extension to the post-Brexit transition phase, saying: “I understand the challenge Scottish Conservatives face.”
There has been mounting unease among Scottish Tories at the possibility of the UK remaining under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) if the transition is extended beyond the end of 2020 to allow more time for trade talks.
Backbench MPs have warned the issue could hit the party’s electoral prospects at Holyrood in 2021, and Scottish Secretary David Mundell is understood to have told Downing Street the issue is a red line.
Mr Mundell raised the CFP in a Cabinet conference call with the Prime Minister at the weekend.
At a meeting of the 1922 Committee last night, Mrs May was loudly backed by her MPs despite claims that she had entered the “killing zone” and a leadership challenge by Brexiteers was imminent.
Michael Fabricant described the reception for the Prime Minister as “not Daniela in the lion’s den but a petting zoo”.
One Scottish MP said Mrs May had “brought up Scotland within the first two sentences of her speech”.
Another Scottish Tory emerging from the meeting told The Scotsman: “All I’ll say on the CFP is that I no longer have to ask the Prime Minister about it; she brings it up herself every time I speak to her.”
The UK government will today unveil legislation that will govern fishing after Brexit, promising to increase the Scottish Parliament’s powers despite a row over whether Edinburgh or London will have ultimate control.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the new Fisheries Bill would “regenerate coastal communities, take back control of our waters and, through better conservation measures, allow our precious marine environment to thrive”, adding that the CFP had “damaged the UK’s fishing industry and our precious fish stocks”.
But the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “There’s no question that fishermen will be sold out by the Scottish Tories… the Prime Minister will be prepared to trade away Scottish fishing interests in Brussels.”