Tory Brexit rebels told to get behind Theresa May

Theresa May. Picture: Greg Macvean
Theresa May. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Conservative rebels on both wings of the party have been warned by Downing Street they risk bringing down Theresa May’s government unless they fall in line behind her Brexit strategy.

The message has been sent out both to Tory Brexiteers pressing her to take a tougher stance in talks with Brussels and to pro-European Union MPs calling for Britain to remain in the customs union.

The operation by May loyalists was launched in response to growing speculation Tory dissidents could trigger a leadership challenge. It also coincides with Brexit negotiations reaching a crucial phase ahead of next month’s summit in Brussels designed to hammer out details of transition arrangements and pave the way for trade talks.

Hardline Brexiteers have been told in meetings with party chiefs they are playing a dangerous game by urging her not to compromise in talks with Brussels and by threatening to vote down any deal that gives too much ground to the EU.

“We’re telling them that they have got what they want – Brexit will happen,” one source said. “But they need to remember that if they push too far and defeat her, the government could fall because the situation is so unstable.”

May allies also view an attempt by Remainers, led by former ministers Kenneth Clarke and Anna Soubry, to win a Commons vote committing Britain to stay in the European customs union as an “existential moment”.