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Tory divisions laid bare as MP publicly calls for Brexiteer to challenge pro-EU colleague for her parliamentary seat

Conservatives line up to condemn the prime minister's Chequers proposals

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Sunday 30 September 2018 20:24 BST
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Conservative Brexit divisions have been laid bare once more as an ally of Boris Johnson publicly called for a Eurosceptic campaigner to challenge a pro-EU MP.

Conor Burns, who was a ministerial aide to the ex-foreign secretary, claimed BeLeave founder Darren Grimes had been "victimised and persecuted by the provisional wing of Remain" after he was fined for breaching strict campaign spending rules during the referendum.

He suggested Mr Grimes try for Dr Sarah Wollaston's parliamentary seat, saying: "Have a look down in Totnes, you'd be brilliant."

Dr Wollaston, a respected backbencher who chairs the Commons Health Committee, has been vocal in her support for a second referendum on the Brexit deal.

The challenge came during a boisterous BrexitCentral rally at the party's annual conference, where Tory MPs lined up to condemn the prime minister's Chequers proposals.

Mr Burns told party activists: "If Chequers had a slogan, it would be: 'Not in Europe, but run by Europe'."

But he claimed he was in a "compromising mood" and offered a hand of friendship to the prime minister, saying: "Adopt Canada-plus-plus, seal the deal. If you want to call is Chequers 2 then that's cool with me.

"Prime minister, we don't want to change you. We want you to change the policy of Chequers. Please, please, do it now."

Prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg was given a standing ovation by activists after a speech where he said Chequers was opposed by not just the Tories but Labour and the EU.

"It is not only a dying duck in a thunderstorm, it is deadest of dying ducks," he said.

The Tories should "not fear" a Brexit on World Trade Organisation terms, he said, adding that it could be a "proper, red-blooded, Conservative approach to governing that frees the people from being tied down".

"We have been Gulliver," he said.

"Let us cut the ropes that the Lilliputians have tied onto us and show our giant form once again."

Scots Tory MP Ross Thomson said Chequers was an "unmitigated disaster" and the Conservatives would face "severe" consequences at the ballot box for not properly delivering Brexit.

He added: "It has humiliated us at home and in the EU, it is breaking this party in two and it sets us on a course to become a voiceless EU rule-taker."

The row comes as the Conservative Party's annual conference got underway in Birmingham, where Ms May sought to put herself on the front foot by announcing a new levy on foreigners buying homes in the UK and plans for a national festival in 2022.

However Mr Johnson cast a shadow over the first day of conference by describing the prime minister's Brexit plans as "deranged".

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