Two senior Tories ready to resign if May fails to change Brexit direction
Two senior Conservatives have said they are ready to resign from the party if it does not change its direction on Brexit, after three of their colleagues joined eight former Labour MPs in a breakaway group in parliament.
The former attorney general Dominic Grieve and the former education secretary Justine Greening both said they would leave the Conservatives if there was a no-deal Brexit, as the three ex-Tory MPs said a third of the party could be willing to join them.
Greening said she would stay in the party “for the moment”. Asked if she would join the Independent Group, she said: “It is something that I’ve considered, but I’ve reached a different conclusion for the moment. I want to challenge my own party. I think we can step up to the plate. I know that many activists and members of parliament feel exactly as I do on social mobility.”
She said she would work to prevent a hard Brexit by voting against it in parliament. Greening added: “If I’m not successful then to my mind the party that I joined many years ago and that I felt matched my aspirations and the aspirations of many people in Britain on opportunity, I would question if that is the Conservative party today,.”
She told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “If we simply become the Brexit party, then I do not believe we have a successful future ahead of us …. I don’t think I would be able to stay part of a party that was a Brexit party that had crashed us out of the European Union.”
Grieve, speaking on Wednesday night, said: “The government which I am supporting implementing a no-deal Brexit – what would I do? I would not be able to maintain my support of the government. I would have to leave the party.”
On Wednesday, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston resigned to join a new grouping in parliament formed by eight former Labour MPs earlier this week. They declared that the Tory modernising project had been destroyed and said their former party had been taken over by hardline Brexiters.
Allen, speaking on ITV’s Peston on Wednesday, said “a third of the party” – about 100 of her former colleagues – disagreed with the direction of the Conservatives. “If we do our jobs properly, there won’t be a Tory party to go back to,” she said.
She added: “We’re about creating something better that is bang smack in the centre ground of British politics that people out there, I am convinced, we are convinced, want.”
Wollaston told the Today programme: “I know that there are many colleagues on my side who will be watching carefully and expecting Theresa May to be certain that she is not going to take us out on a no-deal Brexit.” She added: “Certainly I think that a third of the cabinet, I’m pretty clear, would walk if they were looking at a no-deal Brexit.”
She said: “We don’t feel we’ve changed from the one nation values we stood on. We feel the party is drifting to the right,”, adding: “I would say the Tory party is destroying itself.”
The chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, speaking on the Today programme, said he was saddened by the departure of the three MPs.
“The Conservative party is and always has been and must remain a very broad church,” he said. “I understand their concerns but I hope that over time they will feel able to rejoin the party and help to maintain it and that broad church, that coalition of views, that has been so successful over so many decades.”
He denied that the party had been take over by the hardline Eurosceptics. the European Research Group (the ERG). “The ERG is a relatively small hardcore within the parliamentary party, and a wider group of members of parliament who are sympathetic to some of the objectives of the ERG recognise that, within this broad church that is the Conservative party, compromises are necessary,” said Hammond.
The resignations were announced shortly before prime minister’s questions on Wednesday and the group took their new seats on the opposition benches during the debate. The developments mean May’s small working majority has been reduced to eight.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Wollaston pointed out that after the prime minister lost the meaningful vote on her Brexit deal by an unprecedented margin of 230 votes last month, she promised to seek a cross-party solution – but the first group she consulted was the hard Brexit European Research Group. Asked if she had heard from May, Greening said she hadn’t despite asking “on multiple occasions”.