Steve Baker, a former Brexit Minister, has told the BBC that the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan has alienated both Leavers and Remainers, and that there could be a “catastrophic split” if the Conservative Party was unable to negotiate a more flexible arrangement.
Baker also warned that around 80 Tory MPs are now prepared to vote down the Chequers deal when it’s put before the House of Commons. That’s around 20 more MPs than Mogg and others originally claimed to have on their side. That’s significant – very significant. In fact, it’s probably enough to bring the plan to a sudden halt in the Commons. That’d be a major defeat for Theresa, and potentially the spark that’s needed to cause a leadership challenge.
But, that’s not Baker’s plan – at least, that’s what he says. He has insisted that he isn’t seeking a change in Tory leadership, but instead a change in policy. He told the BBC:
“We want to change the policy and we would be delighted to unite behind Theresa May with a different policy. The Conservative Party must come together to deliver Brexit behind a policy and the policy we are arguing for is the one the EU has offered us in March.”
Baker works with Jacob Rees Mogg in the European Research Group, so I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if this was an honest effort to change Theresa May’s mind. I don’t think Mogg has any aspirations to become Prime Minister, and I do genuinely believe he wants to see Theresa May pull off Brexit successfully. So, whether this move is successful or not is besides the point – I think Baker is being honest when he says he’d like to unite behind Theresa May with a new Brexit plan.
It still is a threat, though. Along with the very real possibility of 80 Tory MPs blocking Chequers – meaning May might have to rely on votes from Labour and the Lib Dems to get it passed – the ERG is planning to release its own alternative plan for Brexit at the Tory Party Conference at the end of the month.
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