Conservative rebels want Theresa May to lead a Brexit rebellion against Boris Johnson's plan to break international law and rip up his deal with the EU

  • Conservative MPs in Boris Johnson's government are growing increasingly frustrated with his leadership.
  • Johnson's plan to break international law and rip up his Brexit deal with the EU has triggered a rebellion among his party and the threat of legal action from Europe.
  • Rebel Conservative MPs are seeking to enlist Johnson's predecessor Theresa May to front the campaign against his plan.
  • Up to 30 Conservative MPs are set to rebel against the government in a parliamentary vote next week.
  • A Conservative party figure involved in drafting the amendment said they felt it had "a good chance of significant support."
  • The row comes amid widespread speculation about him being replaced as leader before the next general election.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Conservative Members of Parliament seeking to stop UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan to break international law and dismantle his Brexit deal with the EU want to enlist his predecessor Theresa May to front the rebellion party sources have told Business Insider.

The former prime minister, who worked on negotiating the deal before handing over to Johnson in 2019, has already spoken publicly against Johnson's plan in the House of Commons this week.

May is unlikely to personally front any rebellion against Johnson next week, given she is reportedly set to miss the vote on Johnson's plan due to take place next week.

However, Johnson's plan has already triggered his premiership's biggest rebellion to date, with two other former Conservative leaders – John Major and Michael Howard – joining a growing list of party grandees unhappy with his plan.

The rebellion is a sign of growing discontent with Johnson among Conservative MPs amid widespread speculation that he could be forced to stand down before the end of his term, following a sometimes chaotic first year as prime minister.

Boris Johnson's annus horribilis

Downing Street's frostiness with its MPs is already damaging discipline.

Anger with the government among Conservative backbenchers boiled over this week when it announced an explosive plan to break international law by unilaterally changing parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement it negotiated with the EU through legislation called the Internal Market Bill.

Only a small handful of Conservative MPs criticized the government publicly. However, these included former Conservative prime minister Theresa May who asked how other countries could trust the UK to respect international agreements in the future if Johnson went ahead with the plan. It also included former Conservative prime minister John Major and former Conservative leader Michael However.

According to party sources, there was also widespread anger behind the scenes, with senior MPs making their feelings known in meetings with government whips. Conservative MPs told Business Insider that some Cabinet ministers were distancing themselves from the move in private conversations and saying Downing Street was utterly responsible.

One of those Conservative MPs who publicly opposed the plan, Bob Neil, has tabled an amendment to the bill, seeking to give parliament a veto over the plan.

The Times of London reported on Friday that up to 30 Conservative MPs were set to rebel against the government and support the amendment. Johnson's majority of 80 means at least 40 Conservative MPs would need to back the amendment to be successful.

One party figure involved in drafting the amendment said they felt it had "a good chance of significant support because it's not a very antagonistic amendment."

They said: "The Liberal Democrats have tabled amendments to delete those clauses from the bill. This keeps them in but adds another hurdle before they come into force. I suspect the Twitter lawyers will want something stronger but this isn't 2019 anymore."

A backbencher who is planning to support the amendment said: "It's not the perfect amendment but it's a way of showing dissatisfaction … There's more disquiet among colleagues than people realize."

Multiple party sources have also told Business Insider that there is an effort among Conservative rebels to make Theresa May their figurehead. They say that the ex-prime minister is one of parliament's most credible voices when it comes to the Brexit deal as her government negotiated most of it before she resigned.

That belief is compounded because the government's majority is not as strong as it appears, according to one Conservative staffer. Party discipline broke down under Theresa May and many of those MPs who participated in parliamentary rebellions developed a taste for it, which they may yet rediscover.

Additionally, many influential backbench MPs like David Davis, Jeremy Hunt, and Greg Clarke do not appear likely to be elevated to frontbench positions in an administration that values loyalty above talent. They may accordingly be more inclined to vote according to their consciences on issues like Brexit and coronavirus restrictions. 

The government also faces a growing backbench rebellion over its recent decision to ban social gatherings of more than 6, according to James Forsyth, the Spectator magazine's political editor. He reports that the party's libertarian wing — usually led by figures including David Davis and Steve Baker — is furious with the decision. It could result in an even larger rebellion against the government than on Brexit. 

Caught between the coronavirus and Brexit crises, Johnson's premiership is about to face its biggest two tests yet, either one of which could spell the beginning of the end of his time at the top.

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