Theresa May faced a blunt threat from Brexiteers today as a senior MP openly questioned whether she ‘really wants to leave’ the EU.
Jacob Rees-Mogg launched a savage attack on the Prime Minister for ‘kowtowing’ to Brussels in negotiations.
He accused the government of ‘preparing for failure’ by making concessions over staying tied to the EU customs union.
He also challenged Mrs May over fears about Brexit triggering the break-up of the union, saying if she believes the people of Northern Ireland want to merge with the Republic she has a duty to call a referendum.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured in London today) has launched a savage attack on the Prime Minister for ‘kowtowing’ to Brussels in negotiations
Mrs May has been fighting to defuse Eurosceptic fury at ‘backstop’ plans to keep Britain tied to the customs union to avoid a hard Irish border.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that the proposal was a last resort and would have to be for a ‘limited time’ as she denied caving into Brussels.
The Irish border has become the critical issue in Brexit negotiations, with the UK and the EU engaged in bitter wrangling over how to avoid imposing ‘hard’ customs checks.
Brussels has dismissed the government’s options of either a customs partnership or a ‘Maximum Facilitation’ technological solution.
A divorce deal struck by Mrs May before Christmas included a backstop that if no other solutions were found to avoid a hard border, the UK would stay aligned to EU rules in key areas.
However, a legal text of the document produced by Brussels since then has been condemned as unacceptable by the PM as it would effectively draw a red line down the Irish sea and split the UK.
Speaking on a podcast for the ConservativeHome website today, Mr Rees-Mogg said the government was being ‘weak’ by ‘preparing for failure two and half years before the point at which they ought to be ready’.
‘To go into the negotiations to say to Mr Barnier, ‘we will kowtow before you in every way you possibly want if we cannot get everything ready by the due date’ encourages him to say, ‘just kowtow, I’m quite happy’. And make no effort to come to a sensible agreement,’ he said.
‘I think it is a sign of abject weakness.’
Theresa May, pictured at the memorial for the anniversary of the Manchester arena bombing today, is struggling to contain Tory infighting over Brexit
Mr Rees-Mogg added: ‘If we say to the EU our backstop position is that will be the vassal state, why should the EU make any effort to make any arrangement other than for us to be anything other than for us to be a vassal state?’
The Tory MP, who heads the infuential ERG group of Eurosceptics, said Mrs May must make clear that the UK will only pay the divorce bill if it gets a trade deal.
‘The money is our strongest card, and it seems at the moment to have been given away without anything in return,’ he said.
‘I fear we’re getting to the point where you wonder whether the Government really wants to leave at all.’
Mr Rees-Mogg also referred to reports that Mrs May was concerned that the government might lose a referendum on reunifying the island of Ireland.
‘If the PM really believes that a border poll would against the Union, then the PM’s secretary of state has a legal obligation to call that poll,’ he said.
‘It is quite extraordinary that Downing Street has set this hare running. It seems very unlikely with all the polling evidence.’