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Still time for 'more to be done' to 'improve' Theresa May's Brexit deal, says Andrea Leadsom

There is still time for "more to be done" and the Brexit deal "improved", Andrea Leadsom has said as the Conservative Party continues to row over Theresa May's withdrawal agreement with Brussels.

The Brexiteer Commons leader said she supports the Prime Minister but suggested there is an opportunity before a special European Council meeting on November 25 to get "the best possible deal for the UK".

Speaking outside her Northamptonshire home, the former Conservative Party leadership contender said she is "working very hard to support the Prime Minister in getting the Brexit deal that 17.4 million people voted for, and I think there's still the potential to improve on the clarification and on some of the measures within it, and that's what I'm hoping to be able to help with".

Ms Leadsom added she was not a "plotter" following claims she has hosted "pizza parties" with other Brexiteer Tory MPs who are unhappy with the direction Brexit is taking, instead saying she was working to "make sure that we get the best possible Brexit deal" before it is put before a special European Council meeting on November 25.

"I think that the UK cannot be trapped in a permanent customs arrangement and I think that it's really important that we get some sort of clarity and some improvement on that particular aspect of it."

While Ms Leadsom has reportedly been leading a group of Brexiteer Cabinet ministers who want to tweak the deal Mrs May agreed with the EU after two years of talks to make it more acceptable to them, the Prime Minister has warned Tory opponents away from alternate Brexit plans.

The group of five ministers, reportedly being headed by Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom and dubbed by some as the "pizza plotters", is believed to include Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Penny Mordaunt and Chris Grayling.

Clockwise: Andrea Leadsom, Chris Grayling, Michael Gove, Liam Fox and Penny Mordaunt are believed to want to tweak the Brexit deal. Credit: ITV News/House of Commons

However, there are many who support Mrs May and her Brexit deal.

Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan described calls for the deal to be altered "a complete sideshow".

He continued that the calls for Mrs May to change her mind were futile since the deal is "about a negotiation between the EU and the UK which has concluded and we've now got to bank it".

Credit: ITV News

Mrs May sought to strengthen her position on Friday by bolstering her Cabinet with a new secretary for exiting the EU and old ally Amber Rudd as the new Work and Pensions Secretary following the resignations of Dominic Raab and Esther McVey over the Brexit deal.

The Prime Minister warned that the so-called Norway and Canada models favoured by her critics would not solve the Irish border issue, as she appointed former health minister Stephen Barclay as her new Brexit Secretary.

Despite his new role Mrs May intends to take the reins in negotiations as she prepares to fight off what newspapers have claimed is a a group of five ministers aiming to persuade the Prime Minister to change her Brexit plan.

  • ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand says the "most imminent threat" to Mrs May are the five Cabinet ministers who want to tweak the Brexit deal, not the possibility of the triggering of a no confidence vote in her leadership.

Despite speculation, Mr Gove, whom it was rumoured had considered resigning over the proposed Brexit plan, told reporters he would not be meeting other ministers on Saturday.

In an interview with the Daily Mail on Saturday, Mrs May bluntly told the "pizza plotters" their alternatives would not work.

She said: “People say ‘If you could only just do something slightly different, have a Norway model or a Canada model, this backstop issue would go away’.

"It would not. That issue is still going to be there.

"Some politicians get so embroiled in the intricacies of their argument they forget it is not about this theory or that theory, or does it make me look good."

It came after a backlash against Mrs May's proposed Brexit deal with the EU, including the resignations of several ministers and the threat of a leadership challenge.

The role of Mr Barclay, who previously held a ministerial role in the Department for Health, will be limited to the domestic delivery of EU withdrawal, preparations for Brexit either with or without a deal and getting legislation through Parliament.

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His appointment follows former Home Secretary Ms Rudd's return to the Government as Work and Pensions Secretary.

A May-loyalist, Ms Rudd was a prominent Remain campaigner, and her return to the Cabinet, in place of Brexiteer Esther McVey who resigned on Thursday, may do little to bridge divides within the Tory ranks.

The rehabilitation of Ms Rudd, who quit in a row over immigration targets, comes after a report concluded she had been let down by her officials.

Following her appointment, Ms Rudd urged Tory colleagues sending in letters of no confidence in Theresa May to "think again".

She said: "This is not a time for changing our leader.

"This is a time for pulling together, for making sure we remember who we are here to serve, who we are here to help: that's the whole of the country.

"I worry sometimes colleagues are too concerned about the Westminster bubble rather than keeping their eye on what our job is - to serve people."

Ms Rudd added that she was confident Mrs May would survive as Prime Minister, saying: "I think she has demonstrated this week her complete commitment to making sure she serves the people she was elected to so do.

"She has come forward with a really practical response to leaving the European Union. I think it's the right combination."

Amber Rudd said she was confident Theresa May would remain Prime Minister. Credit: PA

Cabinet Office minister David Lidington called for unity as several Tory MPs said they had written letters of no-confidence in Mrs May to the 1922 Committee.

Mr Lidington praised the prime minister's resilience in carrying out the "absolutely back-breaking job" of delivering Brexit.

He said: "I would say to people who are plotting against her, this is a woman who is intensely patriotic, intensely dutiful, who is doing her utmost for families and businesses in every corner of this country.

"They haven’t got a better alternative plan available to the one she has worked on and they should rally behind her because that’s what the national interest asks of them."

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox was also staying loyal to the Prime Minister and called for discontented MPs to re-consider their stance.

Speaking at an event in Bristol on Friday, he said: "Ultimately I hope that across Parliament we'll recognise that a deal is better than no deal.

"Businesses do require certainty and confidence as they go forward for their planning and there are those around the world who are waiting to get certainty also to begin to discuss trade agreements with the UK.

"It is in our national interest."

On Thursday, influential Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg was among the Tory MPs to submit letters of no-confidence to the Conservative 1922 Committee, saying the prime minister's deal was "worse than anticipated".

A total of 48 letters of no-confidence are required to force a vote on Mrs May's leadership.

If that number is reached then Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, will call the prime minister with the news.

Mrs May has insisted the UK stood its ground in negotiations with the EU after critics claimed her draft deal was heavily weighted in the bloc's favour.

Defending her much-maligned deal on Nick Ferrari's LBC show on Friday, the Prime Minister said the EU had "given in on" several key points, including the Irish border and the European Court of Justice.

Mrs May said: "A lot of people look at this and think the UK is the only side that's given anything, that's not the case.

"There are other areas too where the European Union has felt that a particular approach is right, and we've said 'no', we've held out, we've held our ground and they've given in to us.

She continued: "But it's a negotiation. And any negotiation, complex as it is, is actually a negotiation that leads to compromises."