Leading Brexit supporters on Wednesday denied reports they were manoeuvering to remove Prime Minister Theresa May — while stepping up opposition to her plan to withdraw Britain from the EU.
Up to 50 of May’s Conservative MPs held a meeting late Tuesday at which they reportedly openly discussed how to unseat her, amid anger over her proposal to keep close trade ties with the European Union after Brexit.
“There’s a great deal of anxiety among colleagues in parliament,” former Brexit minister Steve Baker, who chaired the meeting, told AFP.
He said however he personally was no part of any leadership challenge, while another MP who attended said only five or six MPs openly discussed removing May.
The meeting was held by European Research Group (ERG) of MPs, which is outlining alternatives to the prime minister’s plan.
ERG leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, told reporters at an event on Wednesday that he wanted May to stay on.
“I have long said, and repeated again and again, that the policy needs to be changed but I am supporting the person,” he said.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis, who quit the government over May’s plan in July, told the same event: “We have got a very good prime minister and, like Jacob, I disagree with her on one issue — this issue.”
May has also faced strong opposition in Brussels to her plan to maintain EU rules on trade in goods when Britain leaves the bloc’s single market and customs union after Brexit in March next year.
She will meet other EU leaders at an informal summit in Salzburg, Austria, next week, ahead of a formal summit in Brussels in mid-October.
Both sides hope to reach a deal by early November on the terms of the divorce and the outlines of a future trading relationship.
British eurosceptics want a straightforward free trade agreement with the EU, but this has raised questions of how to avoid border checks in Ireland.
At Wednesday’s event, the ERG outlined how the Irish issue could be resolved with technology and trusted trader schemes — and Davis expressed hope that May will change her approach.
“My view is we’ll end up in a different place, a reset after Salzburg,” he said.
But some Brexit supporters believe a showdown with MPs is inevitable.
Andrea Jenkyns, who has submitted a letter of no confidence in May, told AFP the prime minister was “too dogmatic” to change course.
She predicted a leadership challenge when the Brexit deal was done. “It’ll be in November, when parliament votes on the deal,” she said.