Steve Baker (former Brexit Minister) warns the Prime Minister to drop Chequers plan or face Conservative grassroots revolt.

Over the last few weeks, the initial murmurs of dissent in the Conservative party have grown to an all-out raucous which now threatens the future of the Conservative party – commentators say.

Steve Baker says the Conservative Party could “split” over the PM’s Brexit plan (REUTERS)

Dissent Over Chequers Deal

Steve Baker, a former Brexit minister, has warned that Theresa May may only have until the Conservatives’ annual conference later this month to drop her Chequers plan or face a “catastrophic split” in the party.

Her Chequers plan, the strategy for negotiating Brexit, was backed by the Cabinet back when they met in the PM’s country residence in July. The agreement, which led to the resignations of then-Brexit Secretary David Davis and the former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, sets out a blueprint for the future relationship with the EU once the UK leaves in March 2019.

Baker is the former chairman of the European Research Group (ERG), a Eurosceptic group, which plans to publish its own proposals for Brexit ahead of the Conservative Party Conference. He has said, May faced ”a massive problem” because Tory party members do not support her Brexit blueprint.

Theresa May’s cabinet agreed the Chequers plan in July, but it led to a number to resignations (CROWN)

He called the plan “not acceptable” and claimed the lack of parliamentary support, for it would undermine the UK’s position in negotiations with the EU.

The ERG is demanding May ditch her proposals and instead seek to negotiate a Canada-style free trade deal with the EU. Baker joins a slew of senior Conservative figures that have cast aspersions on Theresa May’s plans, her leadership and the future of the Brexit Deal.

There Might Be A Revolt

On the current plan, Baker said “As many as 80 Conservative MPs are prepared to vote against the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan”

In an interview with Press Association, Mr Baker said: “If we come out of conference with her hoping to get Chequers through on the back of Labour votes, I think the EU negotiators would probably understand that if that were done, the Tory Party would suffer the catastrophic split which thus far we have managed to avoid.”

He then said: “We are reaching the point now where it is extremely difficult to see how we can rescue the Conservative Party from a catastrophic split if the Chequers proposals are carried forward. It is absolutely no pleasure whatsoever to me to acknowledge that, but I look at the mood of colleagues and the mood of the Conservative Party in the country and I am gravely concerned for the future of our party.”

Mr Baker said he hoped the party would emerge from the conference “united around the idea that we can either leave having accepted the EU offer or we have to leave with nothing agreed.”
But he said the Chequers proposal was “not acceptable as a lasting basis for our partnership”, adding: “What we need out of conference is a new resolve that these are the choices before us.”

Baker said they the ERG would give the government “absolutely every support” in forging a free trade deal. However, with 80 MP’s from her own party willing to vote against her Brexit plan, and Labour indicating they will as well, he said it would be “fanciful” to expect her to secure parliamentary approval.

Boris: The Gift That Keeps On Giving.

No stranger to controversy; Johnson’s column over the weekend in the Mail on Sunday, called the PM’s plan a “suicide vest”, with the detonator in Brussels’ hands.

Boris Johnson has criticised the Chequers deal in a number of newspaper articles (REUTERS)

These comments generate public discussion around Johnson, keeping him in the media, a key desire of his. However, they also further exacerbate the divisions in the Conservative party further heightening the likelihood of a split.

Just as senior leaders in the part are split around the PM’s chequers deal, they are also split around Johnson and his brand of Politics. Some strongly condemned his comments but other MPs leapt to Johnson’s defence, as dividing lines ahead of a possible leadership contest begin to take shape.

Sajid Javid, the home secretary  said: “I think there are much better ways to articulate your differences.” He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the public wanted politicians to use “measured language” and that Johnson’s outburst was out of kilter with this.

Alan Duncan, a foreign minister who worked in Johnson’s team for two years, wrote on Twitter: “For Boris to say the PM’s view is like that of a suicide bomber is too much. This marks one of the most disgusting moments in modern British politics. I’m sorry, but this is the political end of Boris Johnson. If it isn’t now, I will make sure it is later.”

However, Senior Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg told The Independent he thought Johnson’s “suicide belt” accusation was little more than “a characteristically colorful catchphrase”. He then added: “I agree with the sentiment. The criticism of Boris’s wording merely serves to highlight his point. It means more people hear of Boris’s criticism of Chequers and many will agree with him.”

Nadine Dorries, another Brexit supporter, said Mr Johnson’s opponents were “terrified of his popular appeal”, adding: “Don’t underestimate the vitriol that’ll be directed towards Boris today. He delivered the Leave vote, Remainers and wannabe future PMs hate him.”

Is May Going Down?

Although Tory Eurosceptics insist they are close to securing the signatures of the 48 Tory MPs needed to trigger a vote of no-confidence in May, there is little sign that the party is ready for the likely turmoil of a leadership contest. It would further spin the Conservative party out on control.

May’s allies insist she would in any event fight to stay on as Prime Minister and they are confident she would win; her critics would have to assemble 158 MPs — half the parliamentary party — to defeat her in a confidence vote.

Acknowledging the prospect of a split, Baker said he was “gravely concerned” for the future of the Conservatives if May pushes ahead with her plan, which he described as “not acceptable”. If things continue in the same trend, then the perfect storm that is brewing will in a few weeks rain on May’s Parade