Theresa May has told warring Tories the time has come for the party to “hold our nerve” and unite in the national interest as the Brexit negotiations enter their final stages.
Following the rebuff of her Chequers plan by EU leaders in Salzburg last week, the Prime Minister warned opposition parties were plotting to exploit the situation to derail Brexit altogether.
With some opponents of Brexit actively working with Brussels to undermine the Government’s negotiating position, she said Conservatives needed to come together in a spirit of national unity and “do what is right for Britain”.
Her intervention came as Jeremy Corbyn indicated for the first time that he would support a second referendum if the Labour Party conference meeting in Liverpool called for one.
With time running out, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said the “moment of truth” will come at next month’s EU summit in Brussels, when it should become clear whether the two sides can reach an agreement.
In a statement, Mrs May said: “Now is the time for cool heads. And it is a time to hold our nerve.
“I have said many times that these negotiations would be tough, and they were always bound to be toughest in the final straight.
“But what’s also clear is that many in Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP are trying to thwart Brexit at every step and seeking to exploit this moment for political gain.
“Some are now openly advocating a second referendum and extending article 50 to delay Brexit, sending us right back to square one. Others are talking directly to the EU to actively undermine the UK’s negotiating position.
“But I say, this is the moment to put our country first. This is the moment to set aside our differences and come together in national unity. This is the moment to do what is right for Britain.”
Meanwhile Downing Street denied that it was planning for a snap general election in an attempt to save Mrs May’s premiership following the Salzburg debacle.
The Sunday Times reported two senior members of her political team had responded to events in Austria by “wargaming” a possible autumn vote to win public support for her Chequers plan.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “It is categorically untrue that No 10 is planning a snap election.”
Earlier Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt urged EU leaders to “step back from the abyss” of a no-deal Brexit and to engage with Mrs May’s Chequers plan.
Speaking on the BBC on Saturday, he said the Prime Minister was in earnest when she warned she would walk away from the negotiations rather than accept a “bad deal”.
“What Theresa May is saying is ‘Don’t mistake British politeness for weakness. If you put us in a difficult corner we will stand our ground. That is the kind of country we are,’” he said.
However, Mr Hunt refused to rule out the prospect the Government could now seek a simple, Canada-style free trade agreement – favoured by many Tory MPs – rather than continuing with the more ambitious Chequers proposals.
“I am not dismissing anything,” he said, adding, however, that a Canada-style agreement, unlike Chequers, would not address the issue of the Irish border.