Leadsom gives May ultimatum over Brexit bill support | Politics


Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, has warned Theresa May that she cannot accept a new Brexit plan that leaves open the possibility of a customs union, before a key cabinet meeting to finalise the proposals.

In a sign of the difficulties the prime minister faces in getting her withdrawal agreement bill (Wab) past her own ministers, let alone the Commons, Leadsom stressed that her backing was conditional.

“I continue to support the prime minister to get her withdrawal agreement bill through,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “It is leaving the European Union, and so long as it continues to be leaving the European Union I continue to support it.”

Asked what she meant by such language, Leadsom said that while she could support the customs arrangements already in the plan, any move to tempt Labour voters by holding open the possibility of a formal customs union, which could affect the UK’s ability to sign its own trade deals, was impossible for her.

She said: “I have been very clear for years – leaving the EU means leaving the single market, leaving the customs union, taking back control of our money, border and laws.”

Such ultimatums by the very minister tasked with guiding the legislation through the Commons highlights the uphill task May faces in finalising the plan and then presenting it to MPs in the week starting 3 June.

Leadsom and other Brexiters will be pushing hard to avoid any concessions to Labour, especially after the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said that the bill could be amended during its passage to include ideas such as a customs union or even a second referendum.

European parliament elections take place across the UK and the rest of the EU, with any campaign likely to be dominated in the UK by smaller protest parties including Nigel Farage’s Brexit party and Ukip, as well as Change UK.

Results of the European elections are declared from 10pm, with the Conservatives expecting massive losses. From the limited amount of polling that has been carried out so far, the Brexit party or Labour look like the probable winners.

Theresa May is planing to bring her withdrawal agreement back to to parliament for another vote.

This is the crucial date past which May said she would not countenance the UK staying in the EU. May must have passed her withdrawal deal before this date in order avoid British MEPs taking up their seats. 

The Commons is expected to return from summer recess, bar any early recall to deal with a Brexit crisis. 

The Labour and Conservative party conferences are held on consecutive weeks.

MPs return to parliament after the party conference season, 18 working days before the UK would be due to leave the EU. 

This is the last practical polling date on which a prime minister could hold a general election or second referendum – the final Thursday before the next meeting of the European council.

EU leaders meet for the final meeting of the European council before the UK’s extension is due to expire.

The six-month article 50 extension will expire.

The next date on which Tory MPs can hold a confidence vote in Theresa May, if she remains at the helm.

Rowena Mason

However, it seems clear very few Labour MPs will be tempted to support it. The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, said the vote on the Wab could be seen as a “political version of the last rites” for May’s time in No 10.

“From what I’ve heard there’s really no radical difference between this withdrawal agreement bill and Theresa May’s meaningful vote that she’s lost many times,” Thornberry told Today.

“I think that Labour MPs will vote against it, I think that Tory MPs will vote against it. And I’m afraid it’s almost a piece of political theatre, as if she needs to have a dignified way of leaving – it’s like her moment that she will resign when she doesn’t get this bill through.”

Thornberry added: “She cannot realistically expect it to get through without fundamental changes. And we’re not getting fundamental changes, from everything I hear.”

On the other side of the divide the chancellor, Philip Hammond, will battle to rule out a no-deal Brexit, something he will say in a speech on Tuesday evening is being pushed by “the populist right”.

He is to tell the CBI conference: “Let me remind them: the 2016 leave campaign was clear that we would leave with a deal. So to advocate for no deal is to hijack the result of the referendum and, in doing so, knowingly to inflict damage on our economy and our living standards.”

In an indication of the wider turmoil gripping the Conservatives, it emerged on Monday night that the former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine has had the whip suspended after saying he would vote for the Liberal Democrats in Thursday’s European election.

The ERG hardcore

The most resistant segment of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs comprises 28 pro-Brexit backbenchers who have refused to be wooed by Theresa May and opposed her third attempt to pass her Brexit deal. Steve Baker, Andrew Bridgen and Mark Francois are the most vocal members. Jacob Rees-Mogg remains close to the group despite backing May’s deal. Another 100 MPs have been associated with the ERG, including the potential Tory leadership candidates Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom.

Blue-collar Conservatives

Esther McVey, a Brexiter who reluctantly voted for Theresa May’s deal, is the latest Tory to breathe life into the idea of blue-collar conservatism, previously championed by Robert Halfon, the chair of the education select committee. McVey launched her version on 20 May at an event widely seen as the unofficial start of her leadership bid. She and fellow MPs including Eddie Hughes, Ben Bradley and Scott Mann plan to tour UK pubs to spread their message. McVey’s supporters claim to have up to 40 MPs signed up to the group; other Brexiters claim the figure is less than 20.

One nation Tories

Amber Rudd has spearheaded this pro-remain, anti-no-deal group of MPs, which includes the international development secretary, Rory Stewart, and the former cabinet ministers Nicky Morgan and Damian Green. The group claims to have more than 60 MPs onboard and plans to stand against “narrow nationalism” and division and in favour of internationalism, environmental policies and protecting consumers from corporations and an “over-mighty state”.

Scottish Tories

Led by the hugely popular Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Tories in Holyrood, and the Scottish secretary, David Mundell, this group’s overtly remain tendencies put them at odds with the likes of the ERG. Among the 13 Scottish Tory MPs and 31 MSPs there is controversy over Boris Johnson, who is a highly divisive figure in Scotland.


A loose term nowadays, since the former Cameroons are largely nowhere to be seen. Those flying the flag for a more socially progressive, relatable kind of conservatism include the former education secretary Justine Greening and the health secretary, Matt Hancock, who even set up his own app in an attempt to keep up with the digital age. Both Greening and Hancock want to move on from Brexit so that other issues can be dealt with, but they are split on what that should look like. Greening has promoted a second referendum, while Hancock is urging all Brexiters to get behind May’s deal.

The Wab is May’s fourth and final attempt to push her Brexit plan through the Commons. Now packaged as a formal bill rather than an outline plan, the prime minister has promised a “new, bold offer”.

Leadsom said this would include new guarantees on workers’ rights and environmental protections, and would “promote alternative arrangements” to the Irish backstop, a key demand of Tory Brexiters.

“All of those things will be attractive to many members across the house,” she said. “But what is absolutely key for me will be that it does deliver Brexit.”

Leadsom is among several ministers who will compete to succeed May when the prime minister steps down in the next few weeks.

She told Today that if she became PM she would be willing to countenance a no-deal departure if the current plan failed to pass.

“For any negotiation to succeed you have to be prepared to walk away,” she said. “And the legal default position is that on 31 October the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without a deal.

“I would like us to have a deal, it’s very important that we do. But in the event that we get to the end of October and it’s not possible to get a deal, I think leaving the European Union is the most important thing of all.”

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