Boris Johnson’s hardline Brexit strategy could drive away millions of Tory voters, ex-minister warns

Sir Michael Fallon says prime minister must make Remain voters feel 'wanted'

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 06 September 2019 10:13
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Boris Johnson’s Brexit stance risks driving millions of Conservative voters into the hands of Remain-backing parties like the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party in the upcoming election, a senior Tory has warned.

Former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon is the most prominent supporter of the prime minister to go public with a warning to Mr Johnson not to further alienate Remain voters and to stick to the Tories’ promise to take Britain out of the EU in an “orderly” way.

The PM’s vow to leave with or without a deal on 31 October and his assertion that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit have alarmed some Tories.

And there is unease in the party at his decision to expel 21 MPs, including two former chancellors and the grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, for backing anti-no deal legislation in the Commons.

Sir Michael, who has announced he will stand down as an MP at the coming election, said he hoped the 21 would be allowed to appeal against the decision to strip them of the Tory whip and bar them from being Conservative candidates.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ”I would hope there would be some kind of appeal mechanism that they can find now so they get the chance to state their case.

“I also worry that it sends the wrong message to Remainers, particularly in my party.”

Sir Michael said: “I think, by definition, some 5 million Conservatives must have voted Remain and I think we have got to be very careful not to drive them into the hands of Remainer parties like the Liberal Democrats in England or the Scottish nationalists in Scotland."

He added: “At the end of October we are doing a huge thing, one of the biggest things we’ve done in this country since the Second World War, and it’s very important that we do try and take those who voted Remain - nearly half the country - with us.”

(REUTERS

The Sevenoaks MP, who has served in the Commons for more than 30 years, said he hoped it was not too late to reach a withdrawal agreement with Brussels.

With Mr Johnson due to meet Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin on Monday and a crunch EU summit coming on 17 October, Sir Michael said the government “clearly hopes that at the last moment our partners would see that no-deal is damaging for everybody”.

And he added: “We pledged to withdraw in an orderly way. There are seven weeks left to try to find an agreement… There is still time to find a way through this with some kind of compromise agreement. It’s very important that those who voted Remain do feel that they are wanted with us on this voyage to a new future.”

Sir Michael said he had voted for Mr Johnson in the Tory leadership contest as “somebody who would bring fresh energy and ambition to this Brexit process” and backed his strategy of setting a final date of 31 October.

“If parliament can’t agree on anything else, then I think he is right to start taking the case to the people,” he said.

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