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Brexit: Theresa May needs to 'take a breath' and admit UK is not ready to leave EU, say remainer Tory MPs

Prime minister's plan will leave communities and families worse off, MPs and peers warn

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Monday 11 February 2019 12:52 GMT
Theresa May confident Brexit will be delivered on March 29

A group of Conservative MPs and peers has warned Theresa May that her Brexit deal "risks further dividing our nation” as they demanded an "urgent" meeting to tell her to delay Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

The supporters of a fresh Brexit referendum said “everyone can see” that Britain is not ready to leave by the 29 March exit date, and called on the prime minister to “take a breath” to reassess her plan.

Her current Brexit deal “risks further dividing our nation and costing jobs” and is “highly unlikely” to benefit families and communities, the MPs and peers said.

The group, formed of supporters of the "Right to Vote" campaign, includes former ministers Phillip Lee, Sam Gyimah, Guto Bebb and Lord Willetts, plus former attorney general Dominic Grieve.

Writing to Ms May, they said: “It is now fewer than 50 days until we are due to leave the European Union. The gridlock over Brexit continues in parliament. We are now effectively faced with the stark reality between a devastating no deal, for which the country would rightly never forgive us, and a compromise which virtually no one on any side of the argument is happy with.

“Whatever your view on Brexit itself, everyone can now see that we are not ready to leave on 29 March. It’s not just businesses but families too that are now being impacted by the uncertainty. This is not Project Fear, it is Operation Reality. As you have said repeatedly, we do not want a ‘disorderly’ Brexit. We should not be inflicting one on our country."

Ms May’s deal “risks further dividing our nation, costing jobs and is highly unlikely to be the best outcome for our families and communities," they added.

The group called on the prime minister "to take a breath, to take a minute and give us all time to consider whether this proposed deal, or however it is adjusted, is really in our best interests” and said she should prioritise “giving the nation time to consider what is a monumental decision for us all”.

Ms May has repeatedly ruled out the option of calling a referendum on her Brexit deal, insisting she is confident of securing the concessions from Brussels required to win parliamentary support for the plan.

However, her attempts to seek changes to the controversial Northern Ireland backstop have been firmly rebuffed by the EU, which insists it will not reopen negotiations on the withdrawal agreement.

The prime minister has also rejected Labour’s offer of a cross-party compromise that would involve the UK staying in a customs union with the EU.

With no apparent solution on the horizon, the Right to Vote MPs asked Ms May for an “urgent” meeting.

In a dig at Brexiteer Tories, they said: “We are aware that over the past few months you have met with pro-Brexit MPs on a number of occasions. We hope you feel that the voice of patriotic, pragmatic Conservatives is also worth listening to.”

Dr Phillip Lee, chair of Right to Vote, told The Independent: "There’s a strong belief among our group that we should take a pause on this. Brexit is such a hugely important issue and rushing and forcing it through is not in the national interest.

"There's a sense of frustration that we’re no further forward. The deal lost by 230. There’s no discernible change on the horizon from Brussels and yet here we are this week not voting on the deal and hearing rumours of a further delay to when that vote will take place. This isn’t acceptable."

He added: "Our group has a solution that involves going back to the public for consent. I said last month that if the prime minister pivoted to that position of putting her deal to a referendum, it would pass the House, and I haven't changed my view on that."

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