A leading Scottish Tory MP has warned that the Conservatives are at risk of “infiltration” by hard-line Brexiteers who could make the party “unelectable”.
Paul Masterton called on party members to resist attempts by pro-Brexit campaigners to influence a future leadership contest and force the party down a path towards an “ideologically pure” exit from the EU.
The warning came amid reports that up to 100 Conservative MPs are opposed to the compromise Brexit plan set out by the Prime Minister at Chequers in July, and could vote against any deal based on the government’s Brexit White Paper in the Commons later this year.
A rebellion on that scale would leave Mrs May reliant on Labour to allow the deal to pass, or the UK would tumble out of the EU without any provisions in place for trade, cross-border co-operation and the rights of expats.
This week the government will begin unveiling dozens of papers setting out preparations for no-deal, covering everything from travel with pets to blood safety. In total, between 70 and 80 topics are expected to be covered.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who will launch the first batch of no-deal plans with a speech on Thursday, insisted that the UK is “ready to make a success of Brexit” even if the government fails to reach an agreement with Brussels.
Mr Raab said the government would “clearly set out the steps that people, businesses and public services need to take in the unlikely event that we don’t reach an agreement”.
The Brexit Secretary added that “securing a deal is still by far the most likely outcome”.
Downing Street added that the advice would be “sensible, proportionate, and part of a common-sense approach to ensure stability, whatever the outcome of talks”.
However, ministers from several EU countries last week warned that the odds on a no-deal scenario were now “50-50” with only a few months left to hammer out an agreement before European legislatures must begin the lengthy ratification process.
Under the Article 50 process set out in Brussels treaties, the UK will leave the EU on 29 March, 2019 with or without an agreement.
Pro-Brexit forces inside and outside the Conservatives are rallying to put pressure on the government ahead of a series of vital EU summits before the end of the year.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the pro-Brexit European Research Group of Conservative MPs, has said there is “just one month to save Brexit”.
And former Ukip leader Nigel Farage has backed a new nationwide campaign against the Prime Minister’s Brexit plans, denouncing it as “nothing less than a direct betrayal of everything that people voted for”.
A twitter post by the Leave.EU campaign group at the weekend claimed that Mr Farage’s support for Leave Means Leave, another pro-Brexit group linked to the Conservative Party, “shows he’s ready to back a pro-Brexit candidate for PM”.
The post added that “if we want to get the Brexit we voted for, we need to take back control of the Tory party from the likes of Anna Soubry” – the Conservative MP who has broken the party whip to push for a softer exit from the EU.
Mr Masterton, the East Renfrewshire MP who has also been branded a “Brexit mutineer”, responded: “Farage & co are not Conservatives. They are certainly not Unionists.
“Mainstream Tory supporters must ensure they are members, and ready to defeat this infiltration that might, if successful, deliver an ideologically pure (and economically damaging) Brexit, but will make us unelectable.”
An alternative Brexit plan based on a beefed-up Canada-style trade deal is being drawn up by a group of ten Conservative MPs and will be debated at the party’s conference in Birmingham in September, it is understood.
Andrew Bridgen, a member of the ERG, told the Sunday Express: “In about two weeks we in the ERG are going to come out with our Canada plus plus and no deal proposals.
“No 10 are trying to pretend that the only choices are between Chequers and no deal and they are trying to demonise no deal. But it will not work.”