Conservative MPs attempting to prevent Theresa May’s plans from leading to a damaging Brexit have hit back after a newspaper branded them “mutineers” and plastered their pictures on its front page.
The MPs accused The Daily Telegraph of “bullying” after it listed their names as people trying to block the Prime Minister’s plan to fix the date of Brexit in law.
Ms May faces a rebellion over the proposal which Conservative MPs fear will tie the UK’s hands in negotiations, meaning the country crashes out of the EU regardless of whether necessary preparations have been made.
As the furore grew, even Brexit-backing ministers began to condemn the front page as an attempt to “divide the party”.
The group listed includes three ex-cabinet ministers, other ex-frontbenchers, chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat and also Sarah Wollaston MP, head of the powerful Liaison Committee which quizzes the Prime Minister.
After the newspaper was published, former minister Anna Soubry took to Twitter to say: “The bullying begins.
“We want a good Brexit not a Hard ideologically driven Brexit #standupfordemocracy.”
She appeared on the page alongside Heidi Allen, who said: “If fighting for the best possible future for our country and our government is considered mutiny – then bring it on.”
The bullying begins. We want a good Brexit not a Hard ideologically driven Brexit #standupfordemocracy pic.twitter.com/VVfg8LmCiA
— Anna Soubry MP (@Anna_Soubry) November 14, 2017
Ex-education secretary Nicky Morgan, who appears on the page, told The Independent: “If standing up for Parliament and to ensure our economy isn’t driven over a cliff makes me a ‘mutineer’, then so be it.”
Former-attorney general Dominic Grieve, who has been central to attempts to correct flaws in Ms May’s Brexit plans, said: “There is a group of us who have serious concerns about the withdrawal Bill and want to try to improve it.
“Anna [Soubry] is absolutely right when she points out that the attempt to characterise us as people who want to prevent Brexit from happening, is completely mistaken.”
The newspaper’s attack was not even supported by Conservative MPs and ministers who back the Prime Minister’s proposals on fixing a date for EU withdrawal.
Brexit Minister Steve Baker said: “I regret any media attempts to divide our party.
“My Parliamentary colleagues have sincere suggestions to improve the Bill which we are working through and I respect them for that.”
Justice Minister Dominic Raab, who was a prominent figure in the Leave campaign, also weighed in, saying: “I agree.
“Colleagues today were reasonable and constructive. We are working together to get this important legislation right.”
Ministers said Ms May’s plan to enshrine in UK law a Brexit date – 11pm GMT on 29 March 2019 – would deliver certainty about the future, but the argument has been rejected by both Tory and Labour MPs.
Former chancellor Ken Clarke said it was “not just ridiculous and unnecessary but could be positively harmful to the national interest”, while ex-attorney general Dominic Grieve has already branded it “incoherent and thoroughly stupid”.
At a “stormy” meeting on Monday around 20 MPs confronted whips over the proposal which they fear will “tie the hands” of the UK.
Other Tory MPs Antoinette Sandbach and Ms Allen said another Government concession, allowing the final Brexit deal to be enshrined in a piece of legislation, would be made meaningless by fixing a Brexit date because there would likely not be enough time to pass it before the date elapses.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the Government’s bid to write the date of withdrawal into law was a “desperate gimmick” from the Prime Minister in an effort to keep her party’s Eurosceptics in line.