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A leading Conservative Remain campaigner today warned against “siren voices” calling for a new party to be set up to fight against Brexit.
Former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan said liberal Tory MPs should not be “drummed out” of the party by being lured into joining a new one or forced out by hardline Brexiteers.
Brexit Secretary David Davis’s former chief of staff, who is campaigning to launch a new anti-Brexit party, revealed last week that two members of Theresa May’s Cabinet had been in contact with him.
James Chapman said the two senior Tories believed there was “an enormous gap in the centre of British politics”, though he added that neither had suggested defecting.
Ms Morgan, who campaigned for Remain last year and now chairs the influential Commons Treasury committee, warned against Conservatives resigning to join a new party, which she believes would swiftly “collapse under its own contradictions”.
“If one-nation liberal Conservatives listen to these siren voices, what would it say about the Tory Party we now have?” she added on ConservativeHome website.
“To accept the argument for creating a new party would be to accept that the Conservative Party can no longer appeal to the British political centre ground.”
She emphasised that the Tories must remain a “broad church” rather than becoming a “narrow ideological shrine, appealing only to a narrow and ageing group of supporters”. This week Mrs May will return from holidaying in Switzerland to a party still rumbling with talk of a leadership challenge. Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has even been mooted as a possible successor.
However, fellow backbencher Heidi Allen said she would quit the party if he took over the helm. “I couldn’t be in the Conservative Party if he was my leader,” she told BBC radio’s The Westminster Hour.
She described him as “incredibly charming” and “very generous” but added: “He’s not the modern face of the Tory party that we are desperate — or I am, certainly — and colleagues are desperate to prove is out there.”
The Prime Minister will seek to gain some control over the political agenda by publishing a series of position papers on Brexit in coming weeks, including on future customs arrangements and the border with Ireland. However, there are concerns among senior Whitehall officials that some documents are being rushed through without proper analysis.
At the weekend, Chancellor Philip Hammond, who favours a “soft” pro-business Brexit, and the International Development Secretary Liam Fox, a leading Brexiteer, issued a joint statement that there would have to be a transition period after Britain leaves the EU. But they stressed it would be time-limited and Britain would quit the EU single market and customs union when it exits in March 2019.
Following the row over whether US chlorinated chicken would be allowed to be imported into the UK after Brexit, another sign of the fraught negotiations ahead emerged, with New Zealand warning against a proposal that would limit the amount of its lamb which could be sold in Britain following its departure from the EU.
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