“No deal is not the default. That will not happen.”
Now MPs have told Business Insider they are taking part in as few panel events as possible at October’s conference in Birmingham so to avoid what is predicted to be a fractious atmosphere over huge divisions in the party over Brexit.
One Brexiteer claimed they had rejected a number of invitations to participate on panels to avoid being the “sacrificial lamb”, expecting the conference to be a “bit of a bloodbath”.
They are expecting the atmosphere to be “even worse” than the “horrible” conference in Manchester last year.
One MP said: “At one Brexit event last year, when it came to questions from the floor, comments ranged from a prediction that MPs will be hanged from lampposts if they don’t deliver Brexit, to a rant about what Muslims wear to the beach, and that was before any Brexit rebellion.”
Another said: “My firm intention is to avoid conference like the plague.
“I’ve never actually been since being elected. Nothing good ever comes of them.”
A source close to a senior Cabinet minister told Business Insider that October’s get-together is “the least they have ever looked forward to conference”.
One pro-EU Tory MP said: “Brexit is tearing the party apart and you’d have to be living in a cave to not notice that.
“Members are passionate on this subject and that’s great. But sometimes passion can spill over into something worse.”
Another said: “We’re expecting a fraught conference. The constant battle is wearing everybody down.”
Conservative MP and Remainer Dominic Grieve won’t be attending the conference for the first time in 25 years.
But the former Attorney General said this was because he would be abroad with the Intelligence and Security Committee, which he chairs.
Political party conferences are known to be heated affairs, but even more so this year over the Conservative’s mostly pro-Leave group still fuming at the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan, particularly plans to keep the UK close to EU markets and customs after Brexit.
Activists are also thought to be planning protests against both Theresa May and MPs that backed her Chequers plan, while Tory associations are understood to be mulling action, including withdrawing long-standing loans to party HQ in response to her perceived failure to deliver on the Brexit vote.
One party source, noting that Tory central office relies on loans of £4 million from associations, told City AM that “it’s a big stick to beat central office with”.
Another said the longstanding loan is on immediate recall “so we could demand them back tomorrow morning if we chose”.