Tensions between Conservative MPs have blown up into a bitter public battle between Remainers and Leavers ahead of a critical week for Theresa May.
With cabinet ministers due to make key decisions on Brexit on Friday, the prime minister has seen Tory backbenchers and junior ministers launch an attack on their Leave-supporting colleagues.
Meanwhile, Mrs May’s top team has been told to quit government if they cannot back the prime minister in delivering a Brexit deal that acknowledges the concerns of businesses.
In an apparent bid to overcome the divisions within her party, Downing Street has produced a third model for post-Brexit customs arrangements beyond the two that ministers are currently at loggerheads over.
A fiery row kicked off after leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg demanded Mrs May “stand firm for what she herself has promised”, prior to crunch cabinet discussions on their plan for a future EU-UK relationship.
Mr Rees-Mogg, who leads the influential European Research Group of Conservative eurosceptic MPs, warned the prime minister he would vote against any final Brexit deal he found unsatisfactory.
He also raised the prospect of Mrs May being forced out of 10 Downing Street if she does not deliver on her Brexit promises, such as quitting the EU’s single market and customs union.
Mr Rees-Mogg’s intervention, made through an article in the Daily Telegraph, prompted a fierce backlash from Conservative Remainers.
Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan hit out at the Brexiteer’s “insolence” in “lecturing and threatening” the prime minister as “just too much”.
Pledging his “total support” for Mrs May, he posted on Twitter: “The ideological right are a minority despite their noise & should pipe down.”
Rees-Mogg’s insolence @Telegraph in lecturing & threatening PM is just too much. Risks debasing govt, party, country & himself. PM must be given maximum latitude & backing. The ideological right are a minority despite their noise & should pipe down. #totalsupportforMay&UK https://t.co/H5YQjaEDSI
— Sir Alan Duncan MP (@AlanDuncanMP) July 2, 2018
Sir Alan’s colleague at the Foreign Office, Alistair Burt, tweeted: “Enough. Just tired of this endless threat and counter threat.
“Why don’t we want the best for the UK than for our own ideological cliques? And there are others in this negotiation as far as I’m aware?”
😳Enough. Just tired of this endless threat and counter threat. Why don’t we want the best for the U.K. than for our own ideological cliques? And there are others in this negotiation as far as I’m aware? https://t.co/bPL517qt3p
— Alistair Burt (@AlistairBurtUK) July 1, 2018
North Dorset MP Simon Hoare told Mr Rees-Mogg he was “simply wrong in his predictions” in a post, adding: “The hectoring nonsense / blackmail has to stop, the reality of parliamentary arithmetic dawn and the calamity of a Corbyn Government woken up to.
“Tories are common sense pragmatists NOT dogmatic vestal virgins.”
He added the Brexit process is “not an ego-fest and we all need to remember that”.
The vast majority of MPs on a x party basis will do what’s right for the country, jobs, economy and national interest. It’s not an ego-fest and we all need to remember that https://t.co/VnTPvhE47K
— Simon Hoare MP (@Simon4NDorset) July 2, 2018
Also on Twitter, The Wrekin MP Mark Pritchard dismissed suggestions the prime minister could be toppled from power, warning: “Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has the support of the majority of the Parliamentary Party & Conservative Associations.
“If, on Friday, Ministers want to resign – they will be replaced. The govt will not collapse. The PM will survive – & 48 letters won’t materialize. Teamwork time.”
Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has the support of the majority of the Parliamentary Party & Conservative Associations. If, on Friday, Ministers want to resign – they will be replaced. The govt will not collapse. The PM will survive – & 48 letters won’t materialize. Teamwork time.
— Mark Pritchard MP (@MPritchardUK) July 1, 2018
Former education secretary Nicky Morgan also raised the prospect of cabinet-level resignations ahead of Friday’s crunch gathering of ministers; to be held at Mrs May’s country retreat Chequers and where the prime minister hopes she will be able to finally forge a Brexit agreement.
In an article for the Conservative Home website, Mrs Morgan hit out at Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt for their recent criticism of businesses which have voiced fears about the nature of the UK’s departure from the EU.
She wrote: “Over the next week, the cabinet has the chance to signal that they do want to listen to business in delivering a Brexit deal with the EU, and that they don’t want to unduly damage our economy in conducting the necessary negotiations.
“I firmly believe that the prime minister needs no persuading of this basic tenet of conservatism, so it is the duty of every cabinet minister to support her in this.
“If they cannot then they need to relinquish their position.”
Amid a continuing failure by ministers to agree on a common approach to post-Brexit customs arrangements, Mrs May ordered her Brexit “war cabinet” to work on competing proposals for a new “customs partnership” with the EU, and a “maximum facilitation” model for reducing trade friction.
Downing Street has now produced a third model for handling customs after the UK leaves the EU, it has emerged.
One senior minister told Sky News: “I think it’ll be a hybrid, complex fudge specifically tailored for a different regime for goods and services.”
After the chequers meeting, the government will publish a white paper outlining its detailed negotiating position on a future UK-EU relationship.
It is understood this will be released on 13 July, the same day as US President Donald Trump is due to visit the UK.