Jacob Rees-Mogg emerged last night as Theresa May’s best hope to avert a snap General Election – or her forced departure from Downing Street by the spring.
In the wake of the Prime Minister’s crushing Commons defeat on her Brexit deal, a group of her most senior allies have ‘war-gamed’ a scenario in which Mrs May would sue for peace with her rebellious backbenchers by offering to resign by May – in exchange for them dropping their opposition.
It comes as the same allies are frantically selecting policies to include in a ‘short, sharp’ manifesto in the event that Mrs May is forced to call a snap Election.
But in a sign that the intensity of opposition could be lessening, Mr Rees-Mogg presents himself as a peacebroker committed to making Mrs May’s deal acceptable to her party.
The powerful chairman of the European Research Group of Tory MPs uses an article in today’s Mail on Sunday to say: ‘If I had to choose between no deal and Mrs May’s original accord, I would have no hesitation of opting for no-deal Brexit – but even Mrs May’s deal would be better than not leaving at all.’
Downing Street was rocked by their loss on Tuesday by 230 votes, which made history as the biggest-ever government defeat.
Jacob Rees-Mogg emerged last night as Theresa May’s best hope
Mr Rees-Mogg, who infuriated No 10 by hosting a champagne party at his London townhouse to celebrate the loss, says: ‘The biggest obstacles within the Prime Minister’s current deal are the backstop [keeping Northern Ireland tied to EU rules] and the £39 billion we currently propose to give to Brussels but for which we get nothing in return.
‘If Mrs May can persuade the EU to show flexibility on these, we could get the deal through the Commons… It is high time for the Tory Party to come together in the national interest.’
Mrs May, who will hold a conference call with her warring Cabinet today on the ‘next steps’ for Brexit, is also offered an olive branch today by one of the EU’s most influential figures.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, writes in this newspaper that Mrs May would find ‘an open door’ if she wanted to make changes to the deal but ‘must act soon’.
Advisers are drawing up an ‘incredibly short’ set of pledges in case of an early Election, said to be light on detail but big on vision. Here’s what it could look like……
To emerge from Brexit a strong and united nation, able to take a lead in the world to defend Britain’s interests and forge new trade deals with the EU and the wider world.
To make sure our economy stays strong and to bring prosperity to the whole of our country, and build a fairer immigration system with the end of free movement.
To overcome social divisions by giving people real opportunity and making Britain the world’s Great Meritocracy and a country that works for everyone.
Theresa May suffered a loss of 230 votes, which made history as the biggest-ever government defeat
To restore the contract between the generations that provides security for older people while being fair to the young as well as continue to protect our world-leading National Health Service.
To seize the opportunities of changing technology, while ensuring that our security and personal privacy – and the welfare of children and younger people – are still protected.
He says that a request to delay Brexit would ‘be assessed in good faith’, but was unlikely to be allowed beyond July 1.
He adds: ‘It is time for British leaders to lead.’
Under the ‘May goes in May’ plan, the Prime Minister would offer to step down in time for a new leader to take over for the trade talks.
One ally said: ‘She would countenance going if it was the only way to protect her legacy.’
And a powerful MP who resigned from Government over the deal said: ‘Backstop or no backstop, if she promised to go in April, I would vote for the deal.’
In a separate development, The Mail on Sunday can also reveal Mrs May’s private polling strategist James Johnson has been testing Election narratives and messages in preparation for Britain having to go back to the polls to break the Brexit deadlock.
And the Director of No 10’s Policy Unit, James Marshall, has begun preliminary discussions about an ‘incredibly short and sharp’ manifesto after consulting with Government departments over what legislation they would seek to implement in a new Parliament.
Mrs May’s political policy advisers Richard Chew and Olivia Oates are also understood to be involved in preparations – despite public denials Mrs May is preparing to face voters again.
However, Downing Street last night insisted that a snap Election was not on the table.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: ‘Apart from anything else, there just wouldn’t be time before March 29.’
But a Downing Street source said: ‘No one wants it but if you plot through every route where we are, it is very difficult to see how you get out of this.’
The influential No 10 figure added: ‘I think we can get the deal through Parliament with a heck of a lot of luck but that’s not something we have had a huge supply of over the last two years, so it worries me.’
They added: ‘The biggest mistake we made last time was everyone was more prepared for an Election than the party that called one. So there is no point in burying our heads in the sand about this.’ Last night Tory MP for Battle Huw Merriman became the first Tory MP to call for an Election, saying: ‘When Parliament can’t pass laws, not just on Brexit but on other matters, and the Government cannot govern through that, then that’s normally when you have a General Election’.
Historic sketches of the 1879 Battle of Rorke’s Drift, drawn by the commander Lt John Chard, were shown round No 10 last week as part of plans to promote the treasures of the National Archives.
Historic sketches of the 1879 Battle of Rorke’s Drift
Allies of Mrs May will hope that in her struggle to deliver Brexit against overwhelming odds, she draws inspiration from how 139 British soldiers fought off 4,000 Zulu warriors in a battle later immortalised in the 1964 film Zulu.
Last ditch: Lt John Chard mapped Rorke’s Drift and led his troops against seemingly insurmountable odds
He admitted to the BBC’s Sunday Politics South East that another Election would be ‘a total failure’, but added ‘but it won’t be the first time that we’ve had to do that’.
But Tory MPs have erupted over the prospect of a fresh ballot in a their private Whatsapp group, declaring the idea ‘dangerous’. In messages seen by The Mail on Sunday, Mark Francois vowed ‘never to stand for it’, while Zac Goldsmith raged: ‘Love to know what promises we would be standing on’, while John Howell said ‘we need this like a hole in the head’.
Maria Caulfield added: ‘My volunteers are on their knees and so fed up with the parliamentary party. They really can’t take much more.’
This week Mrs May faces a fresh battle with the House of Commons as Remainers led by Nick Boles and Dominic Grieve unleash a fresh bout of procedure warfare in a bid to wrestle control of Brexit policy from the Government.
In an incendiary development a leaked draft of a bill proposed by Mr Grieve would allow a minority of just 300 MPs to seize control of Commons business if it was passed and dictate what the Government must do, in a move one critic branded ‘constitutional arson.’
However, Labour whips have yet to decide if they will back the move to neuter the Government.
A source said: ‘We could be in power within months in a minority government, is this really the best time to rip up the rulebook?’
A Downing Street spokesman said it was ‘totally untrue’ that Mrs May’s allies had discussed a deal under which she would resign by May.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured left)with his 11-year-old son Peter (right), dressed in the red breeches of his £15,000-a-year London prep school, who served drinks
A spur of the moment champagne soirée at the £5.6 million Westminster townhouse of Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg was compared to ‘something out of The Great Gatsby’ as the party host was missing for most of the evening.
Just moments after inflicting a thundering defeat on Theresa May’s EU deal on Tuesday evening, the Brexit stalwart invited dozens of Tory colleagues to his home just 300 yards from the House of Commons to raise a glass, but they ended up raiding his kitchen.
And like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s lavish anti-hero, who throws parties for his guests but stays mysteriously out of view, the North East Somerset MP was across the road at the BBC’s television studios giving interviews.
Instead it fell to Mr Rees-Mogg’s 11-year-old son Peter, dressed in the red breeches of his £15,000-a-year London prep school, to serve £45 bottles of Bollinger to jubilant MPs.
Invitations to the bash were sent via a WhatsApp messaging group for Leave-backing MPs, with the Who’s Who of the Tory Right –including former Cabinet Ministers Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith and John Whittingdale – attending.
The Mail on Sunday understands that as the champagne flowed, hungry guests raided the Rees-Mogg family fridge and even emptied his biscuit tin.
A source said: ‘Labour’s Kate Hoey [a Leave supporter], who was invited for all her hard work on Brexit, led the charge as people got a bit peckish and a bit more pd and discovered a stash of digestives.’
Another MP present said ‘the good stuff was flowing’ at the six-bedroom, Grade-II listed home that Mr Rees Mogg purchased with a mortgage from the Queen’s bank Coutts & Co last year.
Mr Rees-Mogg insisted it ‘was a meeting with drinks’, adding: ‘We were chatting about what happened and having a drink at the same time.’
Jacob Rees-Mogg talks with anti-Brexit protester outside the Houses of Parliament ahead of a vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal
As The Mail on Sunday revealed last May, Mr Rees-Mogg’s Tory critics suspected that he would use the five-storey mansion as his ‘own No 10’ in the heart of Westminster in order to further his suspected leadership ambitions.
But he insisted he bought the 18th Century building ‘because I have six children’. Meanwhile, Tory Remainers were in similarly jubilant spirits, gathering on the House of Commons Terrace for their own celebration after the result sent shockwaves through Downing Street.
Pro-EU ringleader Dominic Grieve was seen sharing a pint of beer with Labour MPs after 118 Tory Brexiteers and Remainers united to give Mrs May the largest ever defeat for a government in parliamentary history, voting down her deal by 432 votes to 202.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured): ‘there was no rejoicing at the scale of the Prime Minister’s defeat, no revelling in her humiliation’
We were discussing over drinks the Commons’ decisive vote against a proposal that would have been damaging for this country.
However, there was no rejoicing at the scale of the Prime Minister’s defeat, no revelling in her humiliation. I would have preferred a smaller margin.
Yes, we were happy that a proposal that would not have delivered Brexit had been comprehensively finished off.
Yet Tuesday’s vote, large as it was, only closed off one course of action. It did not solve the key question of how we deliver Brexit and honour the verdict of the 2016 referendum.
It did not in one bound provide a satisfactory Brexit deal.
Mrs May reacted to her setback by opening talks with the Opposition parties to discuss possible changes to her proposals. That is a most statesmanlike approach.
At the Commons: the powerful ERG chairman said that Mrs May reacted to her setback with a most statesmanlike approach
However, in my unequivocal view the answer to this crisis still remains largely within the Prime Minister’s own party. This is why.
As much as reaching out to Europhile Labour MPs may look attractive, only winning over her Tory rebels will get Mrs May over the line.
The simple arithmetic is that more than 110 Tory MPs and ten DUP MPs voted against Mrs May’s deal last week.
If they change sides, she wins.
Therefore, the energy of the negotiations to improve her deal must be with us and not with Labour MPs such as Yvette Cooper who cannot provide her with anything like the additional 115 MPs needed to reverse the result.
Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg leaves his house in Westminster in London
Then the question remains: what type of deal would we be willing to accept? What needs to be changed? The biggest obstacles within the Prime Minister’s current deal are the backstop and the £39 billion we currently propose to give to Brussels but for which we get nothing in return.
If Mrs May can persuade the EU to show flexibility on these, we could get the deal through the Commons.
Most people in Parliament want a deal.
There are very few MPs who have adopted no deal as an article of faith. I have never been among them.
Here I must stress that reports I have gone soggy on Brexit are, as they say, exaggerated to the point of untruth.
If I had to choose between no deal and Mrs May’s original accord, I would have no hesitation of opting for no-deal Brexit but even Mrs May’s deal would be better than not leaving at all.
Even at this very late stage, I believe that with commitment and effort we can avoid such a choice.
I hope that if Mrs May were prepared to compromise on her plans, she could win over her party, get a revised deal through the Commons and secure agreement from Brussels.
It is high time for the Tory Party to come together in the national interest.
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