ARCH Tory Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg has been accused of softening his Brexit demands to help his pal Boris Johnson become PM.
Growing tensions within the 80-strong hardline Tory European Research Group erupted in public on Wednesday.
The Brexiteer backbenchers are split over what changes are needed for them to back Theresa May’s revised EU exit deal.
Significantly shifting his position closer to No10’s, the ERG’s chair Mr Rees-Mogg declared he would be “quite happy” for legally binding changes to the backstop to be enshrined in a new annex to the Withdrawal Agreement.
That means the original divorce treaty – agreed by the PM with the EU in November – would no longer need to be reopened, a key Eurosceptic demand.
The Somerset MP also told the Financial Times that he is no longer insisting that the “Irish backstop” must be scrapped altogether.
Instead, Mr Rees-Mogg said on Wednesday he will be satisfied with “a clear date in which the backstop ends, in the lifetime of this Parliament”.
Sources within the group say his intervention “seriously p***ed off” the ERG’s other leading figure, ex-Brexit Minister Steve Baker who takes a harder line.
Mr Baker recently referred to the annex being negotiated by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox in Brussels now as “the Cox Codpiece”.
A chasm has been growing between the two men for weeks, it was also claimed on Wednesday night, as Mrs May heaps pressure on the rebel group ahead of a crunch final vote on her deal on March 12.
One senior ERG MP told The Sun: “Jacob and Boris want a deal, and they want to vote for one.
“They don’t want to be seen as the people responsible for smashing the Tory party in two, not least because it would be terminal for Boris’s leadership hopes”.
Tory ministers also suspect Boris’s long-held ambition to get into No10 was behind his close ally Mr Rees-Mogg’s shift on Wednesday.
A pro-Brexit Cabinet minister added: “Boris needs a Phase 2 of Brexit to give him a reason to be leader.
“No deal means no future trade deal, and then there’s nothing left for him to do on Brexit.”
But other ERG members backed Mr Rees-Mogg’s softening.
Tory Brexiteer Nadine Dorries also hinted at the split in the ERG by saying as many as 70 per cent of the group would now accept a time-limit to the backstop.
And she said only a handful of arch Brexiteers were “fundamental No Dealers”.
She added she believed the PM’s Brexit deal will go through on March 12.
She said: “We have to have a legally binding time limit, a way the 27 members states don’t get to approve us leaving. I’d be happy to go along with that and I think it will go through on March 12th.
“If the DUP are happy it will be very difficult for anyone else to oppose it.”
A fellow ERG member admitted he was almost certain to back the deal – because it was the only way of “saving Brexit”.
“I’m going to have to end up supporting the deal. It makes me mad, given they’ve done nothing so far.”
Another senior ERG figure said: “The ERG has to be clear. We will never get everything we want, the key is the backstop becomes legally temporary. Who cares how that happens.
“There are strong views, and not so strong views in the group. We will have it out it, and then we will come together in the end.”
most read in brexit
Labour MP and Brexiteer Kate Hoey said she was convinced the EU would change “something” over the backstop and that it would be enough to win over the DUP.
Another Leave-backing minister told The Sun that the ERG are now “split in about five different ways”.
The minister added: “Every camp wants something different. It’s getting really messy’.
- GOT a news story? RING us on 0207 782 4104 or WHATSAPP on 07423720250 or EMAIL email@example.com