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Conservative party under 'existential strain' due to Brexit, says ex-minister

An anti-Brexit demonstrator waves flags outside the Houses of Parliament, in London, Britain, September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Elizabeth Arnold, Press Association Political Staff

The Conservative Party has been put under "existential strain" by Brexit and some friendships and relationships will "never be healed", according to a former cabinet minister.

Nicky Morgan, the Tory chairwoman of the Treasury Committee, laid bare the personal toll on MPs divided over the merits of the UK's departure from the European Union as she insisted she still believes the party can come back together.

Mrs Morgan also said Brexiteer colleagues need to "understand that there is a need for compromise" and advised them against pursuing an approach that "potentially crashes" the UK economy.

Mrs Morgan, in an interview with the Press Association, said of the impact of Brexit on her party's unity: "Massive, I think it's put the party under existential strain.

"I still believe... that we absolutely can come back together after this, but it's going to have to be because people want to do that, there are still many, many issues which unite us as Conservatives, but yes I think there are friendships and relationships that will never be healed from this in the party."

On her Brexiteer colleagues, the MP said: "Nobody gets what they want in complicated negotiations and I'm staggered that some of my Conservative Party colleagues don't want to listen to what businesses and individuals are telling us.

"We're going to leave the EU, the UK will be a third party member from next March... I would urge them not to willingly pursue a path that potentially crashes the UK economy, that cannot be acting in the national interest."

Mrs Morgan also appealed to Theresa May to "keep talking" amid an impasse in the negotiations over the key issue of the Irish border, but urged her to prioritise securing a deal which a majority of MPs could support.

She said: "Well I think it's Norway, I think it's something like EFTA membership, with a customs union and that's the kind of thing that a lot of MPs are talking about... that's the kind of thing that I think MPs on all sides, many MPs are attracted by."

Mrs Morgan added that any deal "has to be based on a recognisable model to provide the best chance of agreement."

The MP also said there was "no appetite for any kind of leadership change before we are through Brexit", adding there were "rumblings but no threat to the leadership" as the Prime Minister attempted to carve out a deal acceptable to Parliament and the EU.

She warned against slipping into any kind of no deal scenario and hinted MPs would be prepared to use the levers of parliament to try to avert such a situation.

She added: "The House is going to have to demonstrate (in) some way, whether it's an amendment to legislation or whether it's, there's all sorts of mechanisms, party motions and everything else as to where the majority of MPs are in terms of the kind of deal that we would like to see, that we think we could support".

Ms Morgan said she had "no doubt" in Mrs May's "commitment to wanting a deal", but added: "I think inevitably the worry has been that every time hard red lines are set it makes it much more difficult to then compromise and compromise is at the heart of every negotiation."

She said: "There are some people who we're never going to win across but there's a majority in Parliament, there's a majority in the country who want there to be a negotiated settlement and I hope that that's the majority that the Prime Minister will be focused on."

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