Theresa May is risking a new Tory war over Europe after she wrenched open party divisions by signalling she backs a hard Brexit with controls on immigration at its core.
In her opening speech to the Conservative conference the Prime Minister unveiled a far tougher stance than she has previously taken on EU withdrawal, and even directly attacked those who want a compromise deal to allow the UK single market access.
Within hours several MPs and two former Cabinet ministers had rounded on the Prime Minister, while a senior Peer warned of a revolt in the Lords.
A group of around 80 pro-EU Tories also met at a fringe event vowing to be the “resistance” against what was branded the “total abandonment and total recklessness” of a hard Brexit.
Pro-EU MPs have been urging Ms May to do everything possible to preserve access to the single market to the greatest degree possible, with many arguing for full access.
But speaking to delegates, she claimed the MPs are looking at things the “wrong way”. She said she wanted a Brexit deal to include cooperation on law enforcement and counter-terrorism, to involve free trade and to give British companies the maximum freedom to operate in the single market.
Then she went on: “But let me be clear. We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again. And we are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.”
She then turned her fire on those calling for Parliament to have more involvement in the Brexit process, questioning their motives. She said: “[They] are not standing up for democracy, they’re trying to subvert it. They’re not trying to get Brexit right, they’re trying to kill it by delaying it. They are insulting the intelligence of the British people.”
Taking aim at those calling for a second referendum, she said: “Even now, some politicians – democratically elected politicians – say that the referendum isn’t valid, that we need to have a second vote.
“Others say they don’t like the result, and they’ll challenge any attempt to leave the European Union through the courts – oh, come on. The referendum result was clear. It was legitimate.”
Former health secretary Stephen Dorrell said focussing negotiations that were about economic policy on immigration would be an “odd” move. He went on: “It’s the wrong way to go about the negotiation to say that one objective be pursued to the detriment of others. To pursue a pure objective on immigration – that way lies madness.”
What experts have said about Brexit
What experts have said about Brexit
1/11 Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond
The Chancellor claims London can still be a world financial hub despite Brexit “One of Britain’s great strengths is the ability to offer and aggregate all of the services the global financial services industry needs” “This has not changed as a result of the EU referendum and I will do everything I can to ensure the City of London retains its position as the world’s leading international financial centre.”
2/11 Yanis Varoufakis
Greece's former finance minister compared the UK relations with the EU bloc with a well-known song by the Eagles: “You can check out any time you like, as the Hotel California song says, but you can't really leave. The proof is Theresa May has not even dared to trigger Article 50. It's like Harrison Ford going into Indiana Jones' castle and the path behind him fragmenting. You can get in, but getting out is not at all clear”
3/11 Michael O’Leary
Ryanair boss says UK will be ‘screwed’ by EU in Brexit trade deals: “I have no faith in the politicians in London going on about how ‘the world will want to trade with us’. The world will want to screw you – that's what happens in trade talks,” he said. “They have no interest in giving the UK a deal on trade”
4/11 Tim Martin
JD Wetherspoon's chairman has said claims that the UK would see serious economic consequences from a Brexit vote were "lurid" and wrong: “We were told it would be Armageddon from the OECD, from the IMF, David Cameron, the chancellor and President Obama who were predicting locusts in the fields and tidal waves in the North Sea"
5/11 Mark Carney
Governor of Bank of England is 'serene' about Bank of England's Brexit stance: “I am absolutely serene about the … judgments made both by the MPC and the FPC”
6/11 Christine Lagarde
IMF chief urges quick Brexit to reduce economic uncertainty: “We want to see clarity sooner rather than later because we think that a lack of clarity feeds uncertainty, which itself undermines investment appetites and decision making”
7/11 Inga Beale
Lloyd’s chief executive says Brexit is a major issue: "Clearly the UK's referendum on its EU membership is a major issue for us to deal with and we are now focusing our attention on having in place the plans that will ensure Lloyd's continues trading across Europe”
8/11 Colm Kelleher
President of US bank Morgan Stanley says City of London ‘will suffer’ as result of the EU referendum: “I do believe, and I said prior to the referendum, that the City of London will suffer as result of Brexit. The issue is how much”
9/11 Richard Branson
Virgin founder believes we've lost a THIRD of our value because of Brexit and cancelled a deal worth 3,000 jobs: We're not any worse than anybody else, but I suspect we've lost a third of our value which is dreadful for people in the workplace.' He continued: "We were about to do a very big deal, we cancelled that deal, that would have involved 3,000 jobs, and that’s happening all over the country"
10/11 Barack Obama
US President believes Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU: "It is absolutely true that I believed pre-Brexit vote and continue to believe post-Brexit vote that the world benefited enormously from the United Kingdom's participation in the EU. We are fully supportive of a process that is as little disruptive as possible so that people around the world can continue to benefit from economic growth"
11/11 Kristin Forbes
American economist and an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England argues that the economy had been “less stormy than many expected” following the shock referendum result: “For now…the economy is experiencing some chop, but no tsunami. The adverse winds could quickly pick up – and merit a stronger policy response. But recently they have shifted to a more favourable direction”
Ex-education secretary Nicky Morgan said: “At the moment it looks like it's more in favour of tackling immigration than the single market. Throwing access to the single market away because immigration is part of the negotiation would be a big mistake. It would damage the economy, and that damages all of us.”
At a fringe meeting shortly after the speech, Stroud MP Neil Carmichael told guests: “We would be reckless if we did not challenge some of the consequences of a hard, or harsh, Brexit. Because we have got to understand that, if it is a hard Brexit, it is also a harsh Brexit.
“We must avoid, at all costs, a Brexit that damages our economy, damages our capacity as a nation to perform capably in the future and actually damages Europe.”
Broxtowe MP Anna Soubry, a former minister and supporter of the Open Britain campaign, warned against the Government being “gung-ho”. She cautioned that Ms May risked millions of jobs if she handled the negotiations badly and stated that any Brexit deal will need the consent of Parliament.
Ms May gave her speech after announcing that she would trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, launching Brexit negotiations, by March 2017 and that the Government would simultaneously introduce a “Great Repeal Bill” to end the EU’s authority in the UK on day one of its departure.
But while Ms May is determined not to give Parliament a say on Article 50, the “Great Repeal Bill” will need to pass through both the Commons and the Lords, where most politicians oppose Brexit.
Insiders believe the Government may be able to whip the vote through the Commons, but in the Lords the Tories are already in a minority and even some Conservative Peers are unhappy.
One said: “There are people who are worried that if the Lords pushes back on this, it could be the end of the Lords.
"But the Lords has to be reformed anyway, it has to happen. There are far too many of us. So some of us don't see that as an impediment."Reuse content