Brexit: Anna Soubry says Jacob Rees-Mogg is now 'running our country' with Theresa May no longer 'in charge'

Pro-EU Tory calls for 'government of national unity' to cope with the crisis – including Labour backbenchers

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 18 July 2018 08:16
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Anna Soubry: Jacob Rees-Mogg is 'running the country'

Anna Soubry says Jacob Rees-Mogg is now “running our country”, warning Theresa May is no longer “in charge” after caving in to Brexit hardliners in key Commons votes.

The leading pro-EU Tory also called for a “government of national unity” to take on the growing crisis – urging the prime minister to reach out to Labour backbenchers.

Ms Soubry spoke out after the powerful European Research Group (ERG) – led by Mr Rees-Mogg – forced Ms May into concessions which appear to torpedo her Chequers proposals.

In stark contrast, a dozen pro-EU Conservatives failed to defeat her over a customs union, after the prime minister threatened a vote of no confidence – raising the spectre of a general election.

“I don't think that she's in charge anymore. I've no doubt Jacob Rees-Mogg is running our country,” Ms Soubry said.

She acknowledged that Jeremy Corbyn and his fellow “old Trotskyists in charge” of Labour were unlikely to agree to a coalition agreement to deliver a workable Brexit.

But she said: “I personally would abandon the Labour frontbench and I would reach beyond it and I would encompass Plaid Cymru, the SNP and other sensible, pragmatic people who believe in putting this country's interests first and foremost.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Soubry dismissed the threats of a no-confidence vote and a snap election as “hollow and rather ridiculous”.

But she warned: “We simply cannot go on like this. People in this country are fed up to the back teeth with Brexit.”

The interview laid bare what one Tory called the “poison now dripping” into the party, as civil war erupts over how to deliver Brexit.

The clashes over the taxation and trade bills appear to have put the Brexiteers back in the driving seat – using their threats of a leadership challenge to bend Ms May to their agenda.

On Tuesday, one hardline anti-EU Tory, Nadine Dorries, said the prime minister had “saved her own skin basically”, by agreeing to the ERG demands.

She agreed to amend the taxation bill so the UK can only collect EU duties after Brexit if Brussels agrees to collect them in return - something the EU will also certainly refuse to do.

A second change – rejecting even a temporary separate customs arrangement for Northern Ireland – would seem to rule out the “backstop” proposed by the EU, without which there can be no withdrawal deal.

Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, tweeted: “This is why I and others feel so strongly about the events of the last few days & the deliberate attempts to derail Chequers.”

After prime minister’s questions, Ms May faces a two-hour grilling by senior MPs on the liaison committee and must then face her backbenchers at an end-of-term session of the 1922 committee.

Many of those present have been considering how to bring her down, but the prime minister now appears safe for the summer at least.

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