Brexit must not be frustrated, May vows

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The Brexit vote must not be frustrated and the government needs to maintain an “absolute” focus on delivering it, Theresa May has said.

In a speech to Tory activists the PM said, as her negotiations with the EU reach their final stages, the “worst thing we could do is lose our focus”.

It came as three pro-EU cabinet members said they could a delay to Brexit to prevent a “disastrous” no-deal.

But Mrs May said there must be no party “purges” over MPs with differing views.

Ahead of crucial votes in the Commons next week, Greg Clark, Amber Rudd and David Gauke told the Daily Mail they would be prepared to defy the prime minister and vote for a delay.

The intervention led to calls for their resignations by Tory Brexiteers.

The UK remains on course to leave the European Union on 29 March.

However, the government has repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of the UK leaving without a formal deal, in the event that Mrs May cannot get MPs to approve the deal she negotiated with Brussels in time.

Mrs May’s speech to the National Conservative Convention (NCC) in Oxford on Saturday evening came as MPs prepare for a series of votes on Wednesday which could see Parliament take control of the Brexit process if the prime minister cannot secure an agreement with Brussels by mid-March.

Mrs May told activists: “Our focus to deliver Brexit must be absolute.

“We must not, and I will not, frustrate what was the largest democratic exercise in this country’s history. In the very final stages of this process, the worst thing we could do is lose our focus.”

The prime minister also referred to the resignations of three pro-Remain Tory MPs – Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston – to join a group of Labour defectors in the new Independent Group, Mrs May said there should be no moves to deselect MPs because of their views on Brexit.

Mrs May said: “No-one gets more frustrated than I do when people vote against the whip, particularly given the tight Parliamentary arithmetic that we face.

“But we are not a party of purges and retribution. We called a referendum and let people express their views – so we should not be seeking to deselect any of our MPs because of their views on Brexit.

“Our party is rightly a broad church – on that and other issues.”

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