Jacob Rees-Mogg today urges hardline Eurosceptics to back Theresa May or face losing Brexit altogether.
Writing in the Daily Mail, he says fellow Leavers have to face the ‘awkward reality’ that Remainers will thwart the 2016 referendum result unless the EU withdrawal agreement is passed.
Mr Rees-Mogg admits that his change of heart will prompt accusations of treachery from some of his followers.
But he says the Prime Minister’s plan is now the only way to ensure Britain leaves the EU.
‘I apologise for changing my mind,’ he writes. ‘By doing so I will be accused of infirmity of purpose by some and treachery by others.
Jacob Rees-Mogg today urged hardline Eurosceptics to back Theresa May or face losing Brexit altogether
Last night Boris Johnson gave the strongest hint yet that he could also fall into line, saying: ‘If we vote it down again there is an appreciable and growing sense we will not leave at all. That is the risk’
I have come to this view because the numbers in Parliament make it clear that all the other potential outcomes are worse and an awkward reality needs to be faced.’
His intervention came as the number of Eurosceptics reluctantly backing Mrs May threatened to turn from a trickle into a flood.
Seven Conservative MPs who voted against her plan earlier this month yesterday said they were changing their minds.
And last night Boris Johnson gave the strongest hint yet that he could also fall into line, saying: ‘If we vote it down again there is an appreciable and growing sense we will not leave at all. That is the risk.’
Former Tory leader and Eurosceptic Iain Duncan Smith said last night there was now a good chance of Mrs May winning the ‘meaningful’ vote.
The shift in momentum came as Remainers – led by Tories Sir Oliver Letwin and Nick Boles and Labour’s Yvette Cooper – prepared to seize control of the Brexit process today in a bid to push through a soft departure.
MPs tabled a blizzard of amendments for consideration in today’s ‘indicative votes’ in the Commons. Options include revoking Article 50, which would effectively cancel Brexit, holding a second referendum and locking the UK into a single market and customs union. The latter would require Britain to accept free movement, EU laws and payments to Brussels.
As No 10 weighed up whether to put the withdrawal agreement to a vote for a third and final time tomorrow:
- Ministers claimed Mrs May could set out a timetable for her departure when she addresses Tory MPs tonight in a bid to persuade them to back her plans;
- Attempts to win over the DUP were rocked when the party’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson warned he would rather delay for a year than accept the withdrawal agreement;
- Mrs May was warned that a string of pro-Remain ministers could quit today unless they are given a free vote on soft Brexit options;
- Nick Boles said Remainers would force the Prime Minister to pursue a soft Brexit if she refused to downgrade her red lines;
- Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom told MPs that Parliament might have to sit through the Easter break;
- The Prime Minister was facing the threat of a rebellion by her own whips over the vote to formally delay Brexit beyond March 29.
As chairman of the 80-strong ERG group of Tory MPs, Mr Rees-Mogg has led opposition to the Prime Minister’s strategy. He was also a leading figure in the bid to topple her last year, which resulted in a confidence vote that she won.
Today he cautions colleagues against believing that removing Mrs May would solve the Brexit crisis.
‘A number of Tory MPs think a new leader could swiftly renegotiate but that is almost certainly not true now that Parliament has taken control of the House of Commons timetable,’ he writes.
‘It would be even harder for a Eurosceptic to manage the current Commons than it is for Mrs May.’
Mr Rees-Mogg, whose backing is subject to support from the DUP, says the agreement negotiated by the Prime Minister ‘is a bad one’ – and he would rather leave under No Deal, but this was effectively ruled out.
Six other Eurosceptic Tories who have voted against Mrs May’s plan said yesterday they would now back it.
They were former Tory vice-chairmen Rehman Chishti and Ben Bradley and MPs Michael Fabricant, Gordon Henderson, Eddie Hughes and Henry Smith. They join a trickle of Brexiteers who have changed their minds in recent days, including former Cabinet minister Esther McVey, James Gray and Daniel Kawczynski.
Privately, ERG sources acknowledge the group is likely to split, with a hard core of ‘refuseniks’ unwilling to back any deal.
This group includes former Cabinet ministers John Redwood and Owen Paterson, Mr Rees-Mogg’s deputy Steve Baker, and Tory grandee Sir Bill Cash. A senior government source last night confirmed that the PM wants to try another vote this week – possibly tomorrow or even Friday – but said she would do so only if she was confident of winning.
‘Realistically if we don’t get the deal through this week then we are looking at a long delay and participation in the European Parliament elections,’ the source said. ‘Things are moving, but the numbers are not there yet.’
Hardline Brexiteers – including Sir Bill – yesterday accused Theresa May of exceeding her lawful powers by delaying Brexit beyond this Friday.
They said there were ‘serious legal objections’ to the agreement made at last week’s EU summit to extend the UK’s membership.
JACOB REES-MOGG: I apologise for changing my mind. But this is why I'm ready to back Mrs May
I apologise for changing my mind. Theresa May’s deal is a bad one, it does not deliver on the promises made in the Tory Party manifesto and its negotiation was a failure of statesmanship.
A £39 billion bill for nothing, a minimum of 21 months of vassalage, the continued involvement of the European Court and, worst of all, a backstop with no end date.
Yet, I am now willing to support it if the Democratic Unionist Party does, and by doing so will be accused of infirmity of purpose by some and treachery by others.
I have come to this view because the numbers in Parliament make it clear that all the other potential outcomes are worse and an awkward reality needs to be faced.
Mrs May ought to have concluded a better agreement but behind the backs of two secretaries of state, David Davis and Dominic Raab, she did not.
The agreement on the table is as it is, and the proposal to replace the backstop with something else, particularly the Malthouse Compromise (a managed No Deal exit — if a deal cannot be agreed) has floundered.
Jacob Rees-Mogg has said he is ready to back Theresa May's deal 'because the numbers in Parliament make it clear that all the other potential outcomes are worse'