- Strongly pro-EU Conservatives want Theresa May’s Brexit deal to collapse, according to a leading Tory MEP.
- That’s because they believe this will create the best conditions for another Brexit referendum.
- “I want the deal rejected because it might result in us remaining in the European Union via a People’s Vote,” Charles Tannock told Business Insider.
- Tannock believes an unholy alliance of ultra Brexiteers and staunch Remainers could a clear route to Britain reversing the 2016 vote and staying in the EU.
- May is under pressure from Brexiteers to take a more hardline approach to negotiations after she suggested that the transition period could be longer than originally promised.
LONDON – A group of hardcore Remainers in the Conservative party hope that Leave-supporting MPs will vote down Theresa May’s Brexit deal in order to trigger a second referendum, according to one of the group’s founding members.
This week is set to be one of the most precarious of May’s premiership, with MPs from all sides of the Conservative party criticising her handling of Brexit talks after she suggested that the transition period could be extended.
Charles Tannock, an MEP who co-founded the “Conservatives for a People’s Vote” group, told Business Insider that pro-EU parliamentarians in the Tory party are rooting for Brexiteers to vote down any deal May brings back to Westminster. This, Tannock said, is because they believe this would create the ample conditions for a fresh referendum, which included the option of Britain remaining in the EU.
“The more MPs that vote against the deal, the better,” Tannock told BI, adding that the “worst” scenario for 10 Downing Street “is best for people like me who are pro-European.”
‘A curious conflation of interests from diametrically opposed viewpoints’
Leave-supporting Conservative MPs have been restless ever since May revealed her Chequers blueprint for leaving the EU. They believe it would leave Britain too closely tied to EU rules, unable to strike meaningful new trade deals, and subservient to the European Court of Justice.
The anger among Brexiteers has increased in recent weeks as the prime minister has tried to unlock the impasse in Brexit talks. May has riled pro-Leave Conservative MPs by suggesting that the 21-month transition period could be extended and her refusal to guarantee a backstop period that comes with a fixed end date.
Steve Baker, a leading member of the pro-Brexit European Research Group of MPs, has said as many as 80 of its members would vote against the prime minister’s deal should she bring it before parliament.
Even if half that number voted down the deal, that would still create a strong possibility of it failing to pass, creating uncertain conditions in which a number of currently seemingly far-fetched scenarios would become more plausible. Those include a general election, a Tory leadership contest, or another Brexit referendum.
It is that variety of possibilities which has created a somewhat unholy alliance between those Remain supporters who hope the government be forced to call a second referendum and those who believe it could create a change in policy which resulted in a harder Brexit.
“It’s a curious conflation of interests and thinking from diametrically opposed viewpoints,” Tannock told BI.
“For me, I want the deal rejected because it might result in us remaining in the European Union via a People’s Vote.
“[The ERG] want the deal rejected because they think it will topple May and put someone even harder in place,” he said.
Around 700,000 people marched for a People’s Vote in London on Saturday, while a growing number of Conservative MPs are considering joining the campaign. Tory MPs including Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Dr Philip Lee are already supporters of the campaign, plus a host of Labour, Lib Dem and Green MPs.
The government has repeatedly ruled out the prospect of a second Brexit referendum, with May suggesting it would be “a gross betrayal of our democracy.” But if her deal failed to pass through parliament, the government would likely face a much starker set of choices than it does currently.
‘As tough as possible’
Some MEPs in Brussels who support calls for a second referendum also believe that the EU should maintain an uncompromising stance with UK negotiators because a “sweet” deal would be more likely to pass through parliament, Tannock said.
“A number of MEPs I have spoken to who fully understand that their governments must tow the line and be as tough as possible, not to blink,” he said.
“They now know that if Mrs May gets a bad deal, she’s likely to have it voted down. If she gets something very sweet, she may persuade Labour to co-operate, and enough Tory rebels to back off.”
Brexit negotiations are currently at an impasse over the thorny issue of the backstop policy for preserving the frictionless Irish border. The EU is adamant that Northern Ireland must effectively stay in the single market and customs union if no other workable options are available. May has said she will never accept this as it would create new checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and undermine the integrity of the UK.
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