Theresa May has pleaded with Tory MPs to unite and deliver on Brexit, warning that “history will judge us all” as she prepares for fresh EU talks.
In a letter to all 317 Conservative MPs, the prime minister urged her party to sacrifice “personal preferences” as she attempts to get an agreement on the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU through parliament.
She confirmed she will return to Brussels for talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker next week, and plans to speak to the leaders of every EU member state over the coming days.
“History will judge us all for the parts we have played in this process,” Mrs May wrote.
“Without a withdrawal agreement we risk a combination forming in parliament that will stop Brexit altogether, whatever the long-term consequences for trust in our democracy.”
Mrs May said leaving the EU without a deal on March 29 “would cause disruption to our economy and to people’s daily lives, damaging jobs both at home and across the EU”.
She added: “Instead, our party can do what it has done so often in the past: move beyond what divides us and come together behind what unites us; sacrifice if necessary our own personal preferences in the higher service of the national interest.”
Sky News political correspondent Lewis Goodall said Mrs May’s letter was an attempt “to reconcile the irreconcilable”.
He said the PM is facing “two Tory parties with opposite demands – a hardcore of Brexiteers who won’t settle for anything but no-deal, and Remainers who will never allow her to deliver one”.
Mrs May has promised to achieve progress in the Brexit negotiations by the time MPs next debate the issue in parliament on 26 and 27 February.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will meet the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Monday to discuss proposals to avoid the need for the controversial Irish backstop – the customs plan to avoid a “hard” border between Ireland and Northern Ireland if a free trade deal between the UK and EU is not reached.
Meanwhile in a speech on Tuesday, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will set out what changes would be required to eliminate the legal risk of being indefinitely trapped in the backstop.
It was confirmed last week that Labour will back a cross-party plan from backbencher Yvette Cooper – expected to go to a vote on 27 February – which would force the government to conclude its deal by March 13 or allow MPs to vote on no-deal or a second referendum.
Henry Newman, director of the Open Europe think-tank, said the prime minister’s deal “is still the most likely outcome at this point”.
He told Sky News: “There are three basic choices that remain; no-deal, no Brexit and a version of the prime minister’s deal.
“The most likely remains that a version of the prime minister’s deal will ultimately pass parliament.”