BORIS Johnson has told Tory rebels he is ready for “spears in my back” from party eurosceptics — in a sign he will now try for a compromise Brexit deal.
It is the latest in a series of hints he is ready to soften his key demand that Brussels scraps the Irish backstop.
That would spark a confrontation with the hardliners of the European Research Group — who call themselves the Spartans.
The stab-in-the-back remark came during talks with some of the 21 Tory MPs who were expelled from the party for defying the government and voting for another Brexit delay.
Boris, who was pleading with the pro-EU Tories not to rebel, insisted he would need their support soon — saying: “The spears in my back won’t be from you, they’ll come from the Spartans.”
Despite the suspension of Parliament, it was another frantic day at Westminster yesterday as:
- The PM went to great lengths to heal the Tory turmoil in the wake of the expulsion of the 21 rebels by stressing his One Nation Conservative roots.
- He told several Cabinet ministers that he’s “basically a Brexity Hezza” — a reference to Tory wet Michael Heseltine who battled right wing PM Margaret Thatcher.
- Boris also told a meeting of the Cabinet he was “the most liberal Conservative PM in decades.”
- DUP leader Arlene Foster backed the PM’s more conciliatory approach for a Brexit deal following talks in No10.
- A senior Labour MP claimed as many as 50 of his colleagues are now ready to back a Brexit deal in the Commons next month to avoid yet another delay.
Cabinet ministers led by Michael Gove are drawing up an offer that would return the Tory whip to the 21 rebels if they agree to sign up to a new election manifesto.
The offer is yet to be signed off by Boris — but the rebels say if it means signing up to No Deal they will turn it down and remain as independents.
‘SPEARS FROM THE SPARTANS’
The ERG’s backing of Boris during the Tory leadership race was key to him winning — and only came after he pledged to tear up the Irish backstop.
But now his hopes of a snap general election has been blocked, some Government advisers are urging him to settle for something like a two or three year time limit to the insurance plan to keep the border open.
One senior ally said: “We know the Spartans are going to accuse us of betrayal at some point.”
Allies of the PM also said any new Brexit deal will not take shape until very close to the vital EU summit on October 17.
He will not publicly climb down from his backstop demand for fear of “blowing up” the party conference in the first week of October, his first as leader.
Boris yesterday insisted a deal was possible, adding: “There are loads of people who want this done. That includes our friends and partners across the EU”.
ERG chair Steve Baker this week warned No10 he and other hardline Eurosceptics may still vote down a deal — even if Boris succeeds in removing the backstop.
He said: “I’m absolutely clear that if it’s Brexit in name only, I will vote against it.” At Cabinet yesterday the PM insisted those who said the expulsion of the 21 rebels made his government “extremist” were wrong.
I don’t care if Northern Ireland falls into the f****** sea
His assertion he was “the most liberal Conservative PM in decades” led to a quip by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
He joked: “Don’t tell Priti” — a reference to hardline Home Secretary Priti Patel
But others mocked Boris’s claim to be “a Brexity Hezza.” One senior Tory critic pointed out: “How’s he going to be that now that he’s kicked out all the Heseltinites?”
Other Tory rebels think Boris is playing both sides of his feuding party off against one other. One said: “Boris is Janus-faced. He has to be to survive.”
But the PM’s Brexit strategy got a boost last night from DUP leader Arlene Foster, who backed the more conciliatory approach he has taken over the last few days.
Speaking following a lengthy meeting at No10, she said she was “encouraged” by his reassurance to Irish PM Leo Varadkar on Monday that he was straining every sinew for a deal.
And, in another sign of movement, Mrs Foster said a “sensible deal” was “the best way forward for everyone.”
During the meeting the PM reassured Mrs Foster and the DUP’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds he was not considering a Northern Ireland-only backstop, which would put a border down the Irish Sea.
MOST READ IN BREXIT
The reassurance came after Mr Johnson’s aide Dominic Cummings ruffled feathers by telling a private meeting: “I don’t care if Northern Ireland falls into the f****** sea”.
The PM is understood to have told the DUP pair the only potential all-Ireland zone he was willing to consider was in relation to agricultural food.
A No10 source said the talks were “really constructive”. The PM’s spokesman said: “We are not seeking a Northern Ireland-only backstop.
- GOT a story? Ring The Sun on 0207 782 4104 or WHATSAPP on 07423720250 or email [email protected]