Theresa May deploys her ‘High Noon’ hero: PM sends her ‘secret weapon’ Geoffrey Cox with pistols drawn to win over rebels before crucial Commons vote… as she warns ‘history will judge us’ over Brexit
- Attorney General will attempt to soothe worried Tory MPs in a pivotal speech
- It comes amid turmoil in her Brexit team as sources say Olly Robbins nearly quit
- Brexit adviser reportedly had a blazing row with a May ally at Downing Street
- Mr Robbins was overheard in a Brussels bar revealing details of what he claimed was the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy
Theresa May is to send in her ‘secret weapon’ in a last-ditch bid to win over party rebels before her Commons ‘High Noon’ later this month.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will attempt to soothe worried Tory MPs in a pivotal speech on Tuesday – as Mrs May warns her opponents that ‘history will judge us all’ in the crunch votes to determine the fate of Brexit on February 27.
Barrister Mr Cox has emerged as one of Mrs May’s most accomplished performers – and one of the few in the Cabinet with the skills to talk round her most trenchant opponents.
It comes amid turmoil in her Brexit team, with sources telling The Mail on Sunday her most senior Brexit adviser Olly Robbins threatened to resign during a blazing row with a May ally at Downing Street.
Mr Robbins, who was overheard in a Brussels bar revealing details of what he claimed was the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy, is also understood to have been given a ‘severe dressing down’ over his indiscretion – and effectively demoted by being ordered to report to Mr Cox rather than Mrs May.
Brexiteer Mr Cox, the Government’s most senior legal figure, is expected to set out the demands which the Government hopes to secure on the hated backstop issue – the Northern Ireland border insurance policy that is the last roadblock to an exit deal with Brussels. He will use his speech at a City law firm to plead with Tory MPs to trust him to secure a meaningful concession from the EU to eliminate the legal risk that we could be trapped in the backstop indefinitely.
Tory whips are battling to stop the efforts of Remainers, led by Tory MP Dominic Grieve, to force the Government to soften or delay Brexit – but in order to do so they need Brexiteers to rally behind the deal and any concessions granted by Brussels. Mr Grieve is hoping to wrestle control of the parliamentary agenda in ten days time, when the Government have vowed to give MPs another amendable vote on Brexit.
But Justice Secretary David Gauke hinted Mrs May hopes to have concluded further talks with the EU by then, saying: ‘I hope that by the time we get to that point that there will have been a deal reached with the European Union and the House of Commons.’
In a highly personal letter to Tory MPs, released last night, Mrs May tells her rebels to support her efforts to change the backstop, saying: ‘History will judge us all for the parts we have played in this process. I believe that a country with our innate strengths, enviable resources, and enormous talent can face the future with confidence that our best days lie ahead.’
Sources told The Mail on Sunday her most senior Brexit adviser Olly Robbins threatened to resign during a blazing row with a May ally at Downing Street
But Mrs May, who will speak to the leader of every EU member state over the coming days, adds: ‘A failure to make the compromises necessary to reach and take through Parliament a Withdrawal Agreement which delivers on the result of the referendum will let down the people who sent us to represent them and risk the bright future that they all deserve.’
She urges them to sacrifice their ‘personal preferences in the higher service of the national interest and rise to the level of events in a way that restores the faith of the British people in our political process.’
Last night Pensions Minister Justin Tomlinson launched an extraordinary attack on Mr Grieve as an out of touch elitist who ‘never troubles himself with campaigning’ or ‘meeting the public’.
Brexit Minister Lord Callanan accused any Minister planning to resign to vote with Mr Grieve of working for the Labour Party.
Mrs May’s attempt to get on the Brexit front foot comes after Mr Robbins was overheard in a Brussels bar claiming she was waiting until the eleventh hour to force MPs to choose between her deal or face a long delay to Brexit.
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It is understood to have been one of a number of incendiary comments to have infuriated the PM and civil service boss Sir Mark Sedwill, and came after a bitter row had already erupted over Chief Whip Julian Smith’s attempt to save Mrs May’s deal from a Commons defeat by telling Tory rebels the Northern Irish backstop could be ‘watered down’. Mr Robbins is understood to have told a senior No 10 official Mr Smith’s actions were making it impossible for him to do his job.
A source said: ‘Olly is now widely seen as the roadblock to killing the backstop. He is refusing to renegotiate it in any meaningful way, but without doing that we aren’t going to get the votes. So Julian has been promising changes which Olly hasn’t signed off, and it has all come to a head.’
Mr Robbins has told friends he feels he has ‘gone as far as he can’ in Whitehall: they believe he has secured a lucrative job offer from a US investment bank and will be gone ‘sooner rather than later’.
Mr Robbins, who was overheard in a Brussels bar revealing details of what he claimed was the PM’s Brexit strategy, is also understood to have been given a ‘severe dressing down’ over his indiscretion – and effectively demoted by being ordered to report to Mr Cox rather than Mrs May
Mr Robbins had previously been tipped to take over as National Security Adviser after Brexit – a job currently being shared by Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark.
On Thursday Sir Mark confirmed he would be continuing to do both roles, in what some Ministers believed was a public slapdown of Mr Robbins for his reckless behaviour. If Mrs May fails to convince the Brexiteers to support her deal, her only hope is to persuade Labour MPs not to block it.
Sources claim one option being pursued is to persuade Unite leader Len McCluskey to instruct MPs backed by his union to either abstain on the vote or back it – in return for a peerage. Mr McCluskey has previously said he would not take a seat in the Lords, but Labour sources say he has indicated he is planning to stand down in the ‘near future’.
No 10 last night denied Mr Robbins had threatened to walk out. However, friends of Mr Robbins do not dispute he was ‘upset’ by reports he was sidelined.
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