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Tory hardliners soften Brexit stance in bid to get Chequers chucked

Tory former leader Iain Duncan Smith. Photo: PA Archive/PA Images

Hardline Tory Brexiteers have signalled they are prepared to soften their stance on EU withdrawal in order to kill off Theresa May’s Chequers proposals.

Prominent anti-EU campaigners like Tory former leader Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg told the Sunday Telegraph they are ready to compromise in order to achieve a Canada-style free trade deal with Brussels.

Such a move would see them back proposals allowing EU officials to be stationed at UK ports after Brexit, and support the Government enforcing EU rules on goods exported to the bloc from UK firms, the newspaper said.

The proposed compromise came as fellow leading Tory Brexiteer Sir Bernard Jenkin said he was not threatening to bring down the Government if Mrs May forced through a Brexit deal on the back of Labour votes in the Commons.

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The comments followed a report in the Sunday Times that a group of Tory MPs was prepared to vote against the Government on the October 29 Budget unless Mrs May toughened her stance with Brussels.

The newspaper quoted Sir Bernard telling a WhatsApp group of Tory MPs: “Make no mistake a soft/non Brexit pushed by the Conservative establishment but put through with Labour support will look like we are abandoning our supporters and remove any sense of obligation among Conservative-Brexit supporting MPs to continue to support the Government.”

Sir Bernard acknowledged he had sent the message, but said it had been misinterpreted.

He told the Press Association: “I don’t know of any Conservative MP who has any intention of voting against the Government in the Budget.

“That is not what the message said.”

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Sir Bernard drew fire last month when he accused the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover, Professor Dr Ralf Speth, of “making it up” after he warned of the “horrifying” impact a no deal Brexit would have on the car giant.

Just hours after Sir Bernard’s accusation Jaguar Land Rover announced a cut in production due to “continuing headwinds” affecting the automotive industry.

Meanwhile, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Duncan Smith said allowing EU officials at UK ports – as happens now with Eurotunnel – would answer concerns about the Irish border.

He wrote: “We can… (conduct) regulatory and customs checks together in a way that respects the EU’s single market, by building on systems already in place at the Channel Ports.

“The UK has long had arrangements with France under the Le Touquet Treaty where passports are checked by French officers at Dover and UK officers in Calais.

“The UK should seek to build on this by agreeing a Le Touquet-plus system with the EU. Any customs or regulatory checks could be made at juxtaposed controls with information-sharing and cooperation between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

“This would not simply answer concerns about keeping the Northern Ireland border open – it would also ensure the channel ports continue to provide as frictionless trade as possible.”

Hopes of a Brexit deal being done within weeks have risen after key EU leaders like European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and his European Council counterpart Donald Tusk expressed optimism that agreement could be reached.