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Three Tory ministers back new Brexit referendum, Conservative conference event told

Phillip Lee, who quit government to back calls for fresh public vote, says more ministers ‘on the cusp’ of resigning

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Monday 01 October 2018 16:40 BST
Former Cabinet minister Justine Greening: 'There is growing recognition from Conservative MP's of a need for a second referendum'

At least three government ministers privately support giving the public another vote on Brexit, a former minister has claimed.

Dr Phillip Lee, who quit the government in June in order to speak out on Brexit, said he knew of other ministers who were “on the cusp” of resigning over the issue.

The MP warned a fringe event at the Conservatives’ annual conference that the party was now “on the side of angry men, against women and young people”.

Asked how many Tory MPs privately support the campaign for a Final Say referendum, Mr Lee told the Conservatives for a People’s Vote event: “I suspect there are significant numbers of colleagues who see the argument for a second vote.

“I know of some others ministers who do, who I’ve had direct conversations with, but it is a difficult environment for them to come out.

“I think more are on the cusp, but it needs public support and business support and I think you’ll see more come out and support us.”

Mr Lee recalled a recent event in his Bracknell constituency where he said “an angry man” had voiced opposition to a second public vote, while “a much more controlled young mother with a buggy” had backed the public having a final say.

He said: “In that moment I thought: how has the Conservative Party got itself on the side of angry men and against women and young people?”

Speaking at the same event, former education secretary Justine Greening said another public vote was the only way to break “stalemate” in parliament.

She said: “The Chequers deal isn’t going to get through, I don’t think a Canada deal would get through and no-deal is absolutely going to be voted down by parliament. Those are just the facts.

“We are going to reach stalemate ... I think there is a growing band of Conservative MPs who have thought their way through this and reached the logical conclusion that a referendum is the only way we can unblock parliament’s stalemate.

“A growing number of Conservative MPs recognise this. It’s a question of when they make their views known, not if.”

Ms Greening warned Tory members the party would suffer at the ballot box unless it agrees to let the public decide the terms of Brexit.

She said: “The words ‘Tory Brexit’ will be ringing through the country forever and a day and there will be no pivoting for our party if this doesn’t work out.

“We shouldn’t have a strategy of guess and hope – guess that this is the right route forwards that people want, and then hope that it all works out.

“I don’t think we can do that on something this profound and this important. I don’t think it’s right and I don’t think its smart.”

Former business minister Anna Soubry also said the Tories had been damaged by Brexit.

She told the fringe event: "What is happening to this great party of ours? The simple truth is that Brexit has done many bad things for our country, and we haven't even left yet, and goodness me it's done some bad things to our party as well.

"Some of us have already experienced the takeover, the infiltration, the entryism from people who are not Conservatives, who do not share Conservative values. They have joined with one determined effort: they want to oust our prime minister and they want to take our party to the extremes on the right of British politics."

In a scathing attack on Theresa May, she said claims that a no-deal Brexit would be better than a bad deal were "dangerous nonsense".

She said: "No deal would be a total disaster for this country. Anybody thinking that is a credible option is living in a fantasy world."

Ms Soubry also said anti-Brexit Tories had been treated in "the most appalling way", including being labelled as "traitors" and "mutineers".

She said: "The leadership of our party stood by and allowed that to happen when they should have called it out and condemned it."

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