London: Theresa May mounted a charm offensive Thursday in a bid to win over Remain-supporting Tory MPs who are considering quitting the party amid concerns that she could be about to lose her fragile majority.
The British Prime Minister invited Justine Greening and Philip Lee to Downing Street for talks after they both warned they were prepared to quit over Brexit.
Downing Street is now said to be on “resignation watch” as just five more resignations would be enough to collapse the Prime Minister’s working majority.
It came as May wrote to three former Tory MPs who defected to join a new independent group, saying: “I do not accept the picture you paint of our party.”
May appeared to acknowledge concerns about “Blukip” entryism in local constituencies, saying associations must ensure that “people who are joining support the values of the Conservative Party”.
However, she said she did not accept claims by the defectors that the Conservative Party’s problems were comparable to the way that Jeremy Corbyn had “allowed the poison of anti-Semitism to go unchecked”.
On Wednesday, three Tory MPs — Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston — became the first to resign and join a breakaway group demanding a second Brexit referendum.
They said that the party had been “subsumed” by “Purple Momentum” and criticised the Prime Minister for her “dismal failure” to stand up to Euro-sceptic Tory MPs.
Justine Greening, the former education secretary, was invited to a meeting in Downing Street yesterday afternoon after she said that she was staying in the Conservative Party “for the moment”.
In a radio interview yesterday morning, she warned that the Tories would no longer be a credible force if they simply became known as the “Brexit party”.
Asked whether she would join the new Independent Group of MPs, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “It is something that I have considered, but I have reached a different conclusion for the moment.”
However, she suggested if the Prime Minister took Britain out of the European Union in a no-deal Brexit, she would leave. “I don’t think I would be able to stay part of a party that was simply a Brexit party that had crashed us out of the European Union,” she said.
She said that despite repeatedly asking for a meeting with the Prime Minister, she had not been given one. Within minutes of the interview, she received an invitation from Downing Street and yesterday afternoon had a “frank” discussion with the Prime Minister.
Philip Lee, who resigned as a justice minister over the party’s Brexit policy, was also called to Downing Street.
Lee said it was the first meeting he had with the Prime Minister since last year. He said: “This is the first and only time I have had a one-on-one conversation with the Prime Minister since my resignation last June, so this is a significant step forward.
“I want to stay and fight for the party I joined under John Major but if the party allows itself to be taken over and become ‘Ukip lite’, I rule nothing out.”
Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, also refused to rule out quitting the party.
He said: “I would certainly cease to take the whip if I thought the Government was about to take us into a no-deal Brexit. I am absolutely clear about that. It would be so disastrous for the country that I would have to use every opportunity available to me to stop it.”