Amber Rudd, Justine Greening and Damian Green urge PM to ignore fringe views
Theresa May is facing renewed pressure to listen to moderate voices within her party over Brexit after three former cabinet ministers lobbied the prime minister at No 10 to seek a “sensible” deal for leaving the EU.
May met Amber Rudd, Justine Greening and Damian Green at Downing Street on Wednesday, and they told her the majority of Conservative MPs wanted a compromise deal with the EU.
Rudd, who stepped down as home secretary last month, Greening, the former education secretary, and Green, previously May’s de facto deputy, urged the prime minister to ignore extreme minorities on either side of the debate.
The former ministers have held informal talks with Tory MPs of various views to try to create a consensus for a “pragmatic approach” to the issue, the Times reported.
Rudd told the paper: “That’s where the vast majority of the party is. We just haven’t been as shouty. We wanted to tell the prime minister what lots of MPs are telling us: sensible Brexit please.”
The details of what a “sensible Brexit” might mean remain unclear, although Rudd said it would not involve the UK staying in the customs union: “Whatever customs union alternative we go for, we have to give ourselves sufficient time to deliver it. What is practical must be the guiding principle while protecting the Good Friday agreement.”
One Conservative MP told the Guardian that while he had not been personally lobbied by any of the ex-ministers, their project seemed credible. “It’s clear that they are very much in keeping with the mood of the backbench party,” he said.
Downing Street confirmed May had met the former ministers on Wednesday, but said the prime minister regularly met parliamentary colleagues.
The pressure on May over her Brexit direction is intensifying as she and her ministers scramble to put together a coherent plan before a meeting of the European council next month.
There has been longstanding concern among a number of moderate Tories that the backbench agenda has been set too strongly by the European Research Group (ERG), the association of hardline Brexit-backing Conservative MPs led by Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Rees-Mogg has joined hard Brexiters in May’s cabinet such as Boris Johnson in criticising the prime minister’s plans for a so-called customs partnership, and pushing for a more robust line.
But opponents of the ERG line on the Tory backbenches are confident the hardline Brexiters do not have sufficient support to push their vision through parliament, and have been urging May to take a more moderate approach.