An anti-Brexit demonstrator waves flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London yesterday.
 Reuters
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives face a “catastrophic split” if she persists with her proposals on Brexit, which 80 or more of her lawmakers are prepared to vote against, a former junior minister said yesterday.

Such public criticism, a day after former foreign minister Boris Johnson cast her Brexit plans as “a suicide vest” wrapped around the British constitution, indicates how hard it could be for May to get any Brexit deal approved.

Steve Baker, a former junior Brexit minister who resigned over May’s so-called Chequers proposals on Brexit, said he was not advocating a change of leader but said May faced a massive problem at the party’s conference on September 30.

If 80 of May’s 315 lawmakers voted against a Brexit deal based on her proposals, the fate of the government and exit process would depend on the opposition Labour Party because she would not command the 320 votes needed to dominate parliament.

“If we come out of conference with her hoping to get Chequers through on the back of Labour votes, I think the EU negotiators would probably understand that if that were done, the Tory party would suffer the catastrophic split which thus far we have managed to avoid,” Baker said.

While some Brexiteers are unhappy with her premiership, they see May as their best immediate hope of ensuring the UK leaves the EU.

The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29, yet little is clear. There is, so far, no full exit deal and it is uncertain whether May can push an agreement through parliament.

Divisions in the Conservative Party over Britain’s relationship with the EU contributed to the fall of all three previous Conservative premiers.

While the EU in recent weeks has given signs it is seeking to ease May into a deal by offering compromises, she is facing an increasingly vociferous group of committed Brexiteers who feel she has been far too weak with the EU.

Under May’s proposals, Britain will seek a free trade area for goods with the EU, largely by accepting a “common rulebook” for goods and British participation in EU agencies that provide authorisations for goods.

Some Brexiteers say those proposals would ensure the EU kept control over swathes of the British economy and thus run counter to the spirit of her manifesto pledge to leave the EU Customs Union and the Single Market.

In an article in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, Johnson pressed his attack on May’s plan, calling it “a humiliation” that opens “ourselves to perpetual political blackmail”. Reuters