Anti-EU hardliners threaten to oust Theresa May if she 'waters down' Brexit


London: Theresa May will face a “stalking horse” challenge to topple her as Prime Minister if she waters down Brexit, senior Conservatives have warned.

Leading Eurosceptic MPs have said they are prepared to mount an immediate leadership challenge if Mrs May deviates from her original plan, set out in a speech in January.

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British PM appoints ministers from across the Conservative Party as she repeats her pre-election pledge to see out a full term in charge.

The revelation comes after a torrid week for the Prime Minister, during which she faced fierce criticism for her handling of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe.

Conservative MPs – including cabinet ministers – have concluded that Mrs May cannot lead them into the next election and they are now discussing when she could go.

Eurosceptic MPs have warned that any attempt to keep Britain in the customs union and single market or any leeway for the European Court of Justice to retain an oversight function will trigger an “overnight” coup.

The plot has been likened to Sir Anthony Meyer’s 1989 challenge against Margaret Thatcher. One former minister and influential figure said: “If we had a strong signal that she were backsliding I think she would be in major difficulty. The point is she is not a unifying figure any more. She has really hacked off the parliamentary party for obvious reasons. So I’m afraid to say there is no good will towards her.”

They added: “What we would do is to put up a candidate to run against her, a stalking horse.

“It would be a rerun of the Margaret Thatcher scenario, with Anthony Meyer. Of course Meyer had no chance at all, but she lost support and she was gone. Bear in mind that she was a hell of a lot more popular than the current prime minister.”

Another former minister said: “If she weakened on Brexit, the world would fall in … all hell would break lose.”

Critics have questioned why Mrs May failed to meet victims and relatives on her first visit to the Grenfell Tower – in contrast to Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader. Damian Green, the First Secretary of State, defended Mrs May yesterday, saying she was “distraught” by the blaze and calling criticism “terribly unfair”.

Some Tories admit privately they are concerned about a “very serious” backlash and fear Mrs May’s image may have been damaged irrevocably.

The elevation of Mr Green – a board member of the official pro-EU referendum campaign – to a position that is effectively one of deputy to Mrs May has also alarmed Brexit hardliners.

The Prime Minister last night attempted to stabilise her new government – still less than a fortnight old – by announcing there would be no Queen’s Speech in 2018. The move, which will mean Parliament sitting for a two-year session rather than one, was framed as a way of ensuring Brexit-related laws are passed in time.

However, it also removes a critical vote that could have toppled the government and comes as a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party guaranteeing supply has yet to be finalised.

A cabinet row that has played out all week went public as International Trade Secretary Liam Fox  issued a thinly veiled rebuttal of Chancellor Philip Hammond’s views.

Dr Fox wrote in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph that the country must be able to sign free trade deals after Brexit – which means leaving the customs union.

“We want Britain to be able to negotiate its own trade agreements, and as we leave the European Union that is what we will do,” he wrote.  

However, Mr Hammond was scheduled to appear on BBC television’s Andrew Marr Show to argue for a softer Brexit with an emphasis on maintaining free trade links with the EU.

Many Eurosceptics have effectively made their support for Mrs May conditional on her fulfilling the terms set out in her Lancaster House speech, delivered in January, which was also reflected in the Tory manifesto. In that address, Mrs May said Britain must leave the single market and customs union and she pledged an end to freedom of movement and ECJ jurisdiction.

Telegraph, London

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