The plot by Tory Remainers to sabotage Brexit was first hatched in the early days of January – as The Mail on Sunday revealed – when Dominic Grieve, one of the high priests of the party’s pro-Brussels faction, had slipped into the grace-and-favour apartment of Commons Speaker John Bercow.
Their furtive meeting came just hours before the Speaker discarded centuries of tradition to allow the former Attorney General to table an amendment to wrest control of Brexit from Prime Minister Theresa May, so kick-starting nine months of guerrilla warfare by the ‘rebel alliance’ to frustrate the drive to leave the EU.
The day after Mr Grieve was spotted leaving Bercow’s plush Commons residence, he joined forces with Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats to defeat his own Government by forcing Mrs May to set out her plan for averting a No Deal Brexit after losing a crunch Brexit vote – leading furious colleagues to describe it as a ‘Remainer stitch-up’ with the Speaker.
Emboldened by their new power in a paralysed Parliament, the rebels struck again and again to stymie both Mrs May’s and then Boris Johnson’s drive to respect the result of the 2016 referendum – leading to last month’s astonishing denouement when 21 rebel Tories lost the party whip for voting to stop a No Deal Brexit.
The plot by Tory Remainers to sabotage Brexit was first hatched in the early days of January when Dominic Grieve, one of the high priests of the party’s pro-Brussels faction, had slipped into the grace-and-favour apartment of Commons Speaker John Bercow (pictured)
Mr Grieve’s manoeuvres triggered fury in his Beaconsfield constituency: his association chairman Santokh Chhokar was bombarded with letters of complaint, with one member saying that he would ‘hurl rotten tomatoes’ at Mr Grieve if he tried to run for election again: others urged him to retire to his holiday home in Brittany.
The behaviour of Mr Bercow – who has a family car that displays a ‘B******s to Brexit’ sticker – enraged pro-Brexit MPs, who accused him of overriding the advice of his officials and ignoring his duty to be impartial.
The Government Chief Whip at the time, Julian Smith, confronted him in his Chair and accused him of overturning precedent and defying the referendum result.
Their furtive meeting came just hours before the Speaker discarded centuries of tradition to allow the former Attorney General (pictured) to table an amendment to wrest control of Brexit from Prime Minister
In April, this newspaper also revealed that Mr Bercow had abandoned plans to announce his resignation that month after being persuaded to stay on by anti-Brexit Tory MPs.
Mr Bercow ripped up his intended statement, which was to declare that he was finally making way for a successor after ten years in the job, after coming under ‘huge pressure’ to stay put from pro-Remain MPs. The news was greeted with dismay in Downing Street.
One of Mr Bercow’s friends told this newspaper: ‘The MPs put him under huge pressure not to leave the Chair until Brexit is sorted.
‘He is now unlikely to give any hint of his going until after the summer recess at the earliest, and may well wait to see if the new October 31 deadline is met before hanging up his boots.
‘Ken Clarke, who John listens to more than any other MP, was a particularly decisive voice, telling him that it was his duty to stay.’
But after Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom announced in The Mail on Sunday last month that the Conservative Party would defy convention by putting up a candidate against the Speaker in the next Election, meaning he would be almost certain to lose his seat, Mr Bercow finally bowed to the pressure and announced that he would step down at the end of this month.
After Mr Johnson became Prime Minister in July, the remainer rebels stepped up their campaign against the Government’s attempt to concentrate minds in Brussels by vowing to leave at the end of October with or without a deal.
Former Chancellor Philip Hammond, who quit the Government when Mr Johnson was elected, became the de facto leader of the ‘rebel alliance’, drawing on his contacts from his time at the Treasury and the Foreign Office to help Mr Grieve and Oliver Letwin draft the Benn Act, which forced Mr Johnson to delay Brexit if he couldn’t reach a deal.
Former Chancellor Philip Hammond (pictured), who quit the Government when Mr Johnson was elected, became the de facto leader of the ‘rebel alliance’
Colleagues of Mr Hammond claim that he was motivated more by ‘a toxic personal loathing’ of Mr Johnson, rather than ‘a burning dislike of Brexit’.
The law was immediately dubbed the Surrender Act by No 10, where officials say they have evidence that the legislation was drafted with the assistance of EU bureaucrats and ‘foreign Governments’.
In a trenchant statement released to this paper, a senior No 10 source said: ‘The Government is working on extensive investigations into Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin and Hilary Benn [who tabled the Bill] and their involvement with foreign powers and the funding of their activities. Governments have proper rules for drafting legislation, but nobody knows what organisations are pulling these strings.
‘We will demand the disclosure of all details of their personal communications with other states. The drafting of primary legislation in collusion with foreign powers must be fully investigated.’
Mr Johnson said that there were ‘real questions’ about how the primary legislation was drawn up.
In a trenchant statement released to this paper, a senior No 10 source said: ‘The Government is working on extensive investigations into Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin (pictured) and Hilary Benn [who tabled the Bill] and their involvement with foreign powers’
Mr Hammond insisted that it was ‘categorically untrue’ that he had drafted any legislation with the help of the EU. And Mr Grieve claimed the allegations were ‘ridiculous’, adding: ‘The tone of these statements comes across like the propaganda of a totalitarian state.’
Yesterday’s astonishing scenes in the Commons, when Mr Letwin moved to force Mr Johnson to send a letter to Brussels asking for an extension, were the climax of the rebels’ nine month campaign.
When we revealed last week that Mr Hammond, Mr Grieve and Mr Letwin were plotting to sabotage Mr Johnson’s Brexit by forcing him to delay Brexit beyond October 31 even if he agreed a deal with Brussels, Mr Hammond wrote on Twitter: ‘The Mail on Sunday is wrong’.
On the contrary, when Mr Letwin laid down yesterday’s amendment – attempting to force the Prime Minister to do exactly that – Mr Hammond was revealed as one of the leading signatories.
Mr Hammond was maintaining his militant line yesterday, writing: ‘I haven’t come this far seeking to avoid No Deal in 2019 to be duped into voting for a heavily camouflaged No Deal at the end of 2020.’
Sir Nicholas Soames said he would vote in favour of the deal and that his other 20 colleagues who had the whip removed would ‘by and large vote for it’.
The rebel group, which also includes former Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, was bitterly split about whether to support the deal, with one prominent member warning that it looked like a ‘pretty hard Brexit’ for Great Britain even if it amounted to a ‘very, very soft Brexit’ for Northern Ireland.
There was more of a consensus that Mr Johnson should be forced to delay Brexit by supporting the Letwin amendment, but as public anger grew over their stance, one by one they fell in behind the Government’s line. In the end…