UK Politics

PM urged to 'see off' hard Brexiteers as Tory divisions continue

Anna Soubry
Image caption Anna Soubry urged the prime minister to show leadership on Brexit

Theresa May has been warned the UK risks disaster unless she "sees off hard Brexiteers" in her own party amid continuing Tory divisions over Europe.

Ex-minister Anna Soubry said the PM must not let what she said were 35 MPs dictate the terms of the UK's EU exit.

No 10 says Mrs May had made progress in the negotiations and set out a "clear vision" of the UK's future relations.

But Labour said days of infighting showed the Tories were "incapable" of setting out a clear position on Brexit.

During an urgent question in the Commons on the second phase of Brexit talks, Sir Bill Cash urged the UK to reject the EU's guidelines for a transition period after its departure on March 29, 2019, while Philip Hollobone said the Treasury must "get with the programme" and accept the UK was separating itself from the EU.

Downing Street has rejected calls for Chancellor Philip Hammond - who has come under fire in recent days after suggesting Brexit should result in "very modest" changes in EU-UK trade - to be sacked.

There have been rumblings among some Conservative MPs about the performance of both the chancellor and the prime minister.

At a Westminster event on Monday one Conservative MP, Johnny Mercer said the "window is closing" for the PM to meet the challenges of leadership.

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Media captionDavid Lidington, minister for the Cabinet Office, says the Conservative "family" should think about more than Brexit

And Ms Soubry - who favours the UK remaining in the customs union and single market - said Mrs May must exert her authority over the Brexit process by putting the "interests of the economy over and above ideology".

"When is the government going to stand up against the hard Brexiteers who mainly inhabit these benches - there's only about 35 of them - see them off, and make sure that we get a sensible Brexit, because if we don't, we will sleepwalk into a disastrous Brexit for generations to come."

As the EU published its guidelines for negotiations on a transition or implementation period after the UK leaves, there have been warnings from Tory Eurosceptics that the UK will stay in the EU "in all but name".

Sir Bill Cash said the PM must reject any outcome which saw the UK having to accept EU law during the transition period and submit to the authority of the European Court of Justice to enforce compliance.

"Given we are leaving the EU, and therefore the customs union, single market and provisions relating to free movement, is the government going to reject this new EU ultimatum," he said.

"Does the government reject this European Council decision as inconsistent with us leaving the European Union?"

Greening on Brexit and losing her job

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, former education secretary Justine Greening said she remained a "firm supporter" of Mrs May and called on "soundings off" to stop.

"I think people need to get behind her. I think she is doing an important job for our country. We need to support her in that impossible, almost, task that she has negotiating Brexit."

During the reshuffle earlier this month, Mrs May had wanted to move Mrs Greening to the Department for Work and Pensions, but she refused and quit the government instead.

Since her departure, Ms Greening has been accused by the PM's former adviser Nick Timothy of blocking moves to reduce tuition fees in her old job.

Asked about this, Ms Greening said she had opposed a review into cutting the maximum level of fees that can be charged, suggesting this would have kicked the issue "into the long grass".

She warned that variable tuition fees could lead to science, technology, engineering and maths degrees becoming more expensive with poorer students feeling they ought to focus on "cheaper" subjects.

And she said it was "wrong" that poorer students were the main losers from the scrapping of maintenance grants. The £3,387 grants towards living costs were available to students from families with annual incomes of £25,000. "I think we have to have a student finance system that's progressive, not regressive."