Theresa May is under pressure to stick to her hardline Brexit principles she set out a year ago
They urged the Prime Minister to stick to the hardline principles she set out a year ago in a major speech for a clear break from Brussels.
Battle lines were drawn amid speculation that unhappy Tory MPs are poised to trigger a leadership election by tabling formal no-confidence protests in Mrs May.
Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, who is effectively the PM’s deputy urged colleagues to unite behind her.
He also sought to reassure anxious Brexiteers that the UK will be able to “diverge” from EU laws in future, while Brexit Minister Lord Callanan insisted: “We’re not going soft”.
Theresa Villiers pleaded with Mrs May to stick to her ideas set out in the Lancaster House speech
I don’t think Theresa May wants to backslide but she is under huge sustained pressure to reverse the result of the referendum
Brexit campaigners Theresa Villiers, the former Northern Ireland Secretary, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is seen as a potential future leader, both pleaded with Mrs May to stick to the ideas she set out a year ago.
Ms Villiers said: “Since the Prime Minister set out a bold vision in her Lancaster House speech, the direction of travel seems to have gone in only one single direction – towards a dilution of Brexit.”
She later added to BBC One’s Sunday Politics: “I don’t think she wants to backslide but she is under huge sustained pressure to reverse the result of the referendum.”
“I want to ensure the case for a real Brexit is made.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg fears Britain will become a ‘vassal state’ during the Brexit transition period
Ms Villiers accepted the need for compromise adding: “But there is only so far you can go with compromise without ultimately finding yourself in a position where you’re selling out all the people who voted to leave.
“If you go too far with compromise, eventually you get to the point where we wouldn’t genuinely be leaving the EU, we wouldn’t be respecting the result of the referendum.”
Fellow MP Mr Rees-Mogg, chairman of the influential European Research Group of Conservatives, said Ms Villiers was “right to be concerned”.
He feared Britain would be kept a “vassal state” in transition with all the obligations of EU membership but no power.
The EU will today issue its own negotiating guidelines for the transition period
Mr Rees-Mogg told ITV1’s Peston on Sunday: “There’s huge support for what the PM said in Lancaster House, in the Tory Party manifesto, marginally qualified by the Florence speech (last autumn) that commands support across the House from most people who voted Leave and quite a lot of people who voted Remain.
“As long as the Prime Minister and Government is consistent with its own stated policy, I don’t think there are any difficulties. Changing it is hard.”
It would be a “great mistake” and leave Britain effectively in the EU if it could not control migration, money or laws after March next year, stressed Mr Rees-Mogg.
On a leadership contest, he insisted: “I’m fully supporting the PM because we need to have stability during the negotiations.”
Lord Callanan said Ms Villiers was “wrong” to say things were being watered down. We’re not going soft. There’s been no backsliding on the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech where she set out the framework for our future relationships.
“We will be regaining control of our laws, our money and our borders.”
Mr Lidington insisted Chancellor Philip Hammond was “fully on board” – despite him saying last week that nothing much would change – and that exit day next year would produce “big, big differences”.
And Justice Minister Dr Phillip Lee warned: “We need to get behind Mrs May and the work she is doing because undermining her now is the surest way to screw up Brexit.”
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Former minister Grant Shapps, who last year mounted a botched coup attempt to unseat her, has revealed Tory MPs are sending letters to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the party’s 1922 Committee, calling for a leadership contest.
Sources suggest the numbers of letters received was already “nudging 40” and three new MPs were adding their voice.
If Sir Graham receives 48 letters he is obliged to kickstart the contest.
The EU will today issue its own negotiating guidelines for the transition as Mrs May chairs a meeting of her Cabinet “war committee”.