Up to 30 pro-EU Tory MPs are plotting to vote down Theresa May’s Brexit deal over fears it could damage the economy, it has emerged.
The group plan to emulate the tactics of their Conservative colleagues on the Brexiteer European Research Group, according to the Guardian.
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker, a leading member of the ERG, warned this week that 40 MPs were prepared to vote against any deal the Prime Minister strikes with Brussels unless it mimics the EU’s trading relationship with Canada.
But the Remain-supporting group, which inlcudes the likes of Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke, plans to push back against such a move, and ultimately hopes to secure a second EU referendum.
A number of the MPs hope that this will force a second referendum, breaking the parliamentary impasse and returning the decision to the British people, though the move is highly dependent on the final outcome of the negotiations.
“There’s a significant number of Conservatives who are deeply worried about any kind of pivot towards Canada [a looser free trade deal], which they can see coming,” one former minister said. “I do think that would then lose the other wing of the party. It’s an impossible circle that she can’t square.”
Pro-Europe Conservative MPs are planning to formalise a name and whipping operation for the group by the end of October, in time to organise for the parliamentary vote. One tongue-in-cheek suggestion is “the Patriots”.
The MPs have been inspired by the effectiveness of the European Research Group (ERG) of about 80 Tory MPs who favour a hard Brexit, led by Rees-Mogg and the former Brexit minister, Steve Baker.
“The ERG do have a game plan, but hitherto people on the other wing of the party haven’t really. But there’s a growing sense we need to,” the ex-minister said.
Fourteen pro-Europe Conservative MPs voted against the government in July after May accepted amendments tabled by the ERG to the customs bill.
May’s willingness to cave in to the Eurosceptics sparked anger from remain-backing MPs, who retaliated by rebelling themselves and came close to defeating the government, which was saved only by the votes of Labour Brexiters and a handful of accidental absentees including Liberal Democrat MPs.
Tory MPs who rebelled over those amendments included Nicky Morgan, Stephen Hammond, Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen, Mark Pawsey, Ken Clarke and Jonathan Djanogly, though not all of that number have said that they support a second referendum or attempts to defeat any future deal.
Tories who have publicly backed a new referendum include the former education secretary Justine Greening, the former defence minister Guto Bebb, and the former business minister Anna Soubry.
One MP involved in the group cited “reasonable MPs” such as Morgan, Hammond and Dominic Grieve who had negotiated with the whips during various tight votes but had ended up with fewer concessions than hardline Eurosceptics, who had stuck to “it’s my way or the highway”.
“There’s no point campaigning for a meaningful vote and then not actually using it. We’ve actually been pretty reasonable over recent months, but we’re at the end of the road now. It’s all been building up to this moment. At some stage you’ve got to nail your colours to the mast,” one senior Tory said.
However, the focus of the group will be on action around the vote rather than copying the ERG’s public strategy of writing critical letters or hosting events.
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