Senior donors to the Conservative Party said she must be ready for a no-deal Brexit rather than accept a bad and divisive settlement from Brussels.
Lord (Michael) Farmer, a Tory peer and former party treasurer, said the “paltry offer” David Cameron secured from the EU before last year’s referendum helped secure the Brexit vote.
“If another unsatisfactory and unfavourable deal is done with the EU negotiators, the divisive issue of Europe will not go away but smoulder on for another generation,” he said.
Vote Leave and Tory donor Jeremy Hosking said: “The EU is stonewalling on the divorce bill, increasing intolerably the political pressure on Mrs May, and we still have no idea whether the trade deal will be beneficial to the UK, or whether they will kick us further in the teeth when we are down.”
Likening the mood of some ministers to the Stockholm Syndrome in which hostage victims form loyalty to their captors, he accused them of seeming keen to increase Britain’s “fragility” at a time when it was already vulnerable.
Pro-Brexit Tory former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson said it was over dramatic to talk of Britain “crashing out” of the EU without a deal.
Two weeks ago he signed a letter saying that if the EU refused to start negotiating a new trade relationship “it would be sensible to tell them formally that we assume that we will be moving to World Trade Organisation terms from 30th March 2019,” he told Sky News.
“Should they then come back to us and want to talk about an all-encompassing free trade deal, that would be great, but this would be prudent insurance and it would give clarity to all parties.”
Tory MP Charlie Elphicke, who last week urged ministers to allocate at least £1billion to invest in upgrading border systems and infrastructure in the event of a no-deal Brexit, told Sky News: “‘We all want to see a really positive deal but we can’t guarantee a deal. That’s why we need to be ready on day one, deal or no deal, prepared for every eventuality.”
Leave Means Leave co-founder and businessman Richard Tice told Sky that preparing for no deal was “basic business sense”.
“When you go into any negotiation, you have to be prepared to have a credible alternative and to not to do the deal.
“There’s lots of people on the Project Fear side saying ‘we going to crash out’. It’s not that. WTO is a different type of deal. But if you go that route you have got to prepare for it, which is why we can’t wait for the 59th minute of the 11th hour.
“We should be saying that if we haven’t got heads-of-terms of a deal by next March, or, worst case, June, that we are going to WTO rules. Let’s plan so everybody knows where we’re going.”
Separately, powerful union boss Len McCluskey claimed today that a no-deal Brexit could collapse the government and spark an election in 2019 with a “real chance” of making Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister.
A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the EU said it was approaching talks in a “constructive way” and was optimistic but it was the “duty of a responsible government to plan for a range of scenarios”.