Frustrated Tory MPs placated by whips with promise of imminent details on Brexit plan

 
Catherine Neilan
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Tory MPs are being urged to stop going public with their frustrations (Source: Getty)

MPs are being urged to stop complaining about Theresa May's lack of vision, with the promise of an imminent announcement on transition and post-Brexit trade.

The Prime Minister has come under widespread criticism from her own party, with MPs such as Nicholas Soames blasting her policies as "dull, dull, dull", while in-fighting between factions dominates the headlines.

Donors and grassroots activists are making their frustrations known to MPs, with one saying members are "spitting bullets" - but many backbenchers are afraid that a leadership contest could tip the party over the edge.

City A.M. understands that the Whips Office is attempting to placate disgruntled MPs and put an end to people going public with their frustrations by promising a clear statement of intent on Brexit in the coming weeks.

Brussels has already set out its framework for transition, although the UK is yet to spell out detail beyond a recent speech by Brexit secretary David Davis.

One Tory MP said: "We have been using the phrase deep and special relationship as a code for something beyond what is available at the moment. Over the next month or so, the plan is for the leadership to begin to show what that means. If it doesn't we have a problem."

He added: "Someone like me will want to see very clearly what she is saying - it’s now time that we should be a lot more explicit about what we are wanting. If [the Whips Office] ramp it up and it doesn't come, it will be even more tense within the parliamentary party."

It is thought the plan may include remaining in a customs union with the EU, albeit not the current customs union. The Cross Border Trade Bill currently making its way through parliament makes provision for such a scenario.

Even if that isn't the plan, a cross-party group of MPs are intending to force the government's hands - although international trade secretary Liam Fox appeared to rule it out.

He told Bloomberg TV: "It is very difficult to see how being in a customs union is compatible with having an independent trade policy because we would therefore be dependent on having an independent trade policy.

"Because we would therefore be dependent on what the EU negotiated in terms of its trading policies and we'd be following behind that."

And if the Tories were looking for evidence of decisiveness this week, they would have been disappointed after May insisted once again she does not have to choose between having more control after Brexit or minimising disruption to the economy.

The Prime Minister, who is returning from China this morning, told the BBC that she did not "believe that those are alternatives", insisting it was possible to do both.

"My choice is very simple: we take back control of our money, we take back control of our borders, we take back control of our laws," she said. "We want that free trade agreement... to be on as tariff free and frictionless a basis as possible.

"That will be good for jobs in the UK, but that also gives us the freedom to negotiate and sign up trade deals around the rest of the world, and that is good for prosperity and jobs and people in Britain too."

Earlier this week, former EU Commissioner Lord Hill made it clear he did not believe it would be possible to have both, and urged the government to prioritise growth over continuity.

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