May struggles for control as Brexit divisions erupt at conference

Daily news News Westminster

The Conservative Party conference started in Birmingham this week with deep divisions over Brexit threatening to dominate the annual event.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy came under fire on the opening day with former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson launching an attack on her in a Sunday newspaper.

Backbench MP and leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg also weighed in, describing her Chequers plan as “the deadest of dying ducks” at a fringe meeting.

The squabbling continued with Chancellor Philip Hammond attacking Mr Johnson and accusing him of being incapable of doing “grown-up politics.”

It left Theresa May struggling to retain control at the start of the week-long conference as she tries to restore unity to her divided party.

She had appealed to MPs and party members to get behind her Chequers proposals which were rejected by the EU 27 earlier this month.

Mrs May also responded to Mr Johnson’s attack, published in The Sunday Times, in a pre-conference interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr.

Mr Johnson had called for a “bolder” approach to Brexit, the cancellation of the HS2 rail project and even suggested building a new bridge to Ireland.

He also dismissed Chequers as “deranged” and suggested that Mrs May was a ‘Remainer’ at heart in what was seen as a bid to position himself for a leadership bid.

But Mrs May told Marr that she did believe in Brexit and added: “But crucially I believe in delivering Brexit in a way that respects the vote and delivers on behalf of the British people.”

She also appeared to rule out any more compromise on the Chequers plan as part of her attempts to secure a final exit deal.

In another controversial intervention, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt accused the EU seemed of seeking to punish the UK for leaving, and compared their approach to the Soviet Union.

He said: “If you turn the EU club into a prison, the desire to get out won’t diminish – it will grow.”

“If you put a country like Britain in a corner, we don’t crumble. We fight. So as your friends of many years we say simply this: Brexit is not about whether you succeed or we succeed. Europe prospers when we both succeed.”

The Tories hope to concentrate on domestic matters as the week goes on, with new announcements on apprenticeships and a ban on employers keeping workers’ tips.

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