‘Frit’! Labour accuse May of weakness over Brexiteers

Written By: James Douglas
Published: February 22, 2018 Last modified: February 22, 2018

‘Brexit Labour accused the prime minister of being “too weak” to confront the hard-line Brexiteers in her own party after more than 60 Tory backbenchers insisted she authorise a swift and clean break with the European Union.

The Opposition claimed the move exposed the deep divisions at the heart of the Government.

Shadow Brexit minister Paul Blomfield said: “It is clearer than ever that Theresa May cannot deliver the Brexit deal Britain needs. She is too weak to face down the fanatics in her own party and to deliver a final deal that protects jobs and the economy.”

The Tory revolt was spearheaded by the European Research Group of Tory backbenchers led by Jacob Rees-Mogg who said the UK must not be stopped from negotiating trade deals with other countries, once it leaves the EU, and must gain full “regulatory autonomy”.

The letter, signed by 62 MPs including several ex-ministers and former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, purportedly backed the Prime Minister’s vision for Brexit, as set out in January 2017, including leaving the customs union and single market.

But it says she must ensure the UK can change its laws without authorisation from the EU from the moment it leaves in March 2019. They also insisted the UK must be “free to start its own trade negotiations” during the planned two-year transition period that would kick in after Brexit day. And it urged her to resist EU efforts to set the timetable for Brexit negotiations.

The letter said: “The UK should negotiate as an equal partner. Ministers may not want or be able to accept the EU’s timing and mandates as fixed, and should be able to set out alternative terms including, for example, building an agreement based on our World Trade Organisation membership instead.”

The revolt came ahead of a crunch cabinet meeting to thrash out an agreement on how to proceed in negotiations with the EU.

The SNP’s Stephen Gethins said: “It is clear from this list of demands that the Tories don’t want either a transition deal or a ?future relationship with the EU.”

Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said it appeared the prime minister had “one arm tied behind her back by the Tory militants who are now nakedly acting like a party within a party”.

Meanwhile, a group of pro-Leave economists claim to have “comprehensively debunked” leaked government forecasts predicting a hit to the UK economy outside the EU.

The Whitehall forecasts – which predicted lower growth across the UK as a result of Brexit – sparked a row when they emerged last month.

Now Economists for Free Trade have published their “alternative” calculations, saying the civil servants’ version ignored what they said were the “clear objectives” set out by  May of free trade with Europe and the rest of the world. Using government models, this would suggest a 2 per cent rise in GDP over 15 years, the group claimed.