PM MAY yesterday warned Tory rebels pushing for a leadership contest that a new Conservative Party leader would not make negotiations with the EU any easier.
At the same time Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, said that if he does receive the 48 letters required to force a confidence vote in the prime minister, he would not delay in announcing it – meaning that there are not enough to do so at present.
May told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘A change of leadership at this point isn’t going to make the negotiations any easier and it’s not going to change the parliamentary arithmetic. ‘What it will do is mean there is a delay to those negotiations and that’s a risk that Brexit gets delayed or frustrated. ‘This isn’t about me. This is about the national interest. The next seven days are critical.’
May had earlier said she believed the 48-letter trigger point had not been reached, despite two cabinet resignations last week and numerous pro-Brexit MPs openly saying they would not accept the EU agreement. When Sophy Ridge asked: ‘Is the backstop like the “Hotel California”, you can never leave?’ May said: ‘You can leave.’
When she visits Brussels, she said, she will talk to EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
UK negotiators are already at the EU’s HQ, as they move on to what May called the next phase of the negotiations – the ‘future relationship’. ‘There is more negotiation taking place. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We’ve agreed the withdrawal agreement in principle. It goes alongside the future relationship,’ she said.
Earlier, Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News a second EU referendum was an ‘option for the future, but not an option for today’.
Quizzed by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Labour’s leader said he didn’t know what question would feature in a referendum. Asked how he would vote today if he could, he said: ‘I don’t know.’ Corbyn also admitted he had not read all of Theresa May’s Brexit agreement, saying: ‘I’ve read a lot of it.’
He added that he had read many of the summaries and analyses. He said he wouldn’t support Theresa May’s deal because it was ‘vague’ and did not say enough about workers rights and environmental protections. He suggested he would support a deal like that struck by the prime minister if it addressed those concerns.
Corbyn admitted for the first time that he voted Remain in the 2016 Referendum and described a second referendum as an ‘option for the future, but not an option for today’. Asked how he would vote in a second referendum, he said: ‘I don’t know how I would vote – what the options would be at that time.’
• Later yesterday morning a spokesman for Juncker said that he would only be prepared to meet with May once progress on the documents regarding the future relationship between the EU and the UK have been ‘advanced in a decisive manner’.