Tories urged to keep May as critical Brexit talks loom

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Posted by Geoff Bishop

A FORMER Conservative cabinet minister has warned his party against the “chaos” of a leadership contest as it could further delay resolving Brexit.

Owen Paterson said Theresa May was right “despite all the disappointments” to try to find a way to govern with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party given that the Tories won the most seats and most votes.

But the MP was less sure about how May could continue to rule in such a manner, saying “let’s see how it pans out” when asked.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the former Northern Ireland secretary said: “We are nine days off from the Brexit talks starting, we’ve had two horrific security incidents, and to cast the Tory Party into yet another leadership contest I think would be very unwise.

Asked how long May would stay as PM, Paterson replied: “Let’s see how it pans out. There is an immediate problem to get a Government fixed which has a workable majority so we can begin to work on Brexit. This is coming down the track, the train is approaching and we have to get that resolved.

“There has to be the Great Repeal Bill put through the Commons, and our neighbours want to know how the form is going to be.”

He said May and Brexit Secretary David Davis had made clear this issue was a priority, adding: “We want to get that resolved as rapidly as possible and to have the chaos and uncertainty of a leadership contest would put the whole issue on hold and I think that’s really bad for the stability, not least because of the whole economics looking ahead, with the pound dropping and everything else.”

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has said the European Union wants talks to progress “quickly” and warned it will defend the interests of its members during the looming divorce proceedings.

Speaking during a visit to Mexico, Merkel ended her brief period of “polite” restraint from commenting on May’s catastrophic poll.

“We are ready for the negotiations. We want to do it quickly, respecting the calendar,” she said in comments reported by Sky News.

“We were waiting for the election in Britain, but in the next few days these talks will begin.

“We will defend the interests of the 27 member states and Britain will defend its own interests.”

On Friday, European Council president Donald Tusk warned Mrs May there is “no time to lose”.

With talks due to start in Brussels on June 19, Tusk said it was their “urgent task” to get on with the negotiations in “the best possible spirit”. In a letter to the PM congratulating her on her reappointment he said the two-year time frame set out under Article 50 of the EU treaties left no room for delay.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker also said he hoped there would be no further delay to the negotiations “we are desperately waiting for”.

The SNP has urged May to put membership of the EU single market “back on the table” following her failure to secure a majority government.

Stephen Gethins, the party’s spokesman on Europe at Westminster, said May must rethink her Brexit plan after the snap General Election result on Thursday in which the Tories lost seats.

“The election result was a comprehensive rejection of the Tory plans for an extreme Brexit – and single market membership must now be back on the table,” he said. “Theresa May couldn’t have been clearer. She called this election to secure a mandate for her negotiating position, and the electorate snubbed her.

“The Tories expected to come back with a thumping big majority – but instead they’ve come back weakened and reliant on the votes of the DUP.

Scotland needs a seat at the negotiations to leave the EU, and it’s time for the Tories to ditch their plans for an extreme Brexit.”