Chris Grayling said putting a stop to Britain’s withdrawal from the EU could end centuries of “moderate” politics the UK has enjoyed since the English Civil War, as he urged his Conservative colleagues to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
Just days before the critical Commons vote, the Transport Secretary told the Daily Mail: “People have to think long and hard about how they are going to vote. This is too important for political game-playing and I urge Conservative MPs who back Brexit and others to back the deal.
“If not, we risk a break with the British tradition of moderate, mainstream politics that goes back to the Restoration in 1660.
“MPs need to remember that Britain, its people and its traditions are the mother of Parliaments. We ignore that and the will of the people at our peril.”
He said there would be a “different tone” in British politics if Britain failed to leave the EU, and predicted a “less tolerant society” and a “more nationalistic nation”.
“It will open the door to extremist populist political forces in this country of the kind we see in other countries in Europe,” Mr Grayling told the paper.
“If MPs who represent seats that voted 70% to leave say ‘sorry guys, we’re still going to have freedom of movement’, they will turn against the political mainstream.”
His comments came after Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley warned a no-deal exit would create a “feeling of unrest”.
She told BBC News NI: “I have been clear that I believe no deal is bad for the United Kingdom, it’s bad for the whole United Kingdom because it does put in jeopardy some of those constitutional arrangements.
“I’m sure it will create feeling of unrest with people in all parts of the United Kingdom who didn’t want to see us leave the European Union.”
It comes amid reports that some Cabinet ministers believe Mrs May has run out of time to get crucial exit legislation through Parliament before March 29 – even if she wins the critical vote next week.
Meanwhile, two of the biggest donors to the Leave campaign said they believed Brexit would eventually be abandoned by the Government and that the UK would stay in the EU.
Billionaire businessman Peter Hargreaves, who pumped more than £3 million into the exit campaign, told Reuters: “I have totally given up. I am totally in despair, I don’t think Brexit will happen at all.”
And hedge fund manager Crispin Odey, who donated more than £870,000 to pro-Leave groups, said: “My view is that it ain’t going to happen. I just can’t see how it happens with that configuration of Parliament.”
They attributed a lack of direction from Brexiteers as one of the reasons for their pessimism.
Elsewhere, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd highlighted Cabinet divisions by suggesting it was wrong to criticise Commons Speaker John Bercow over his controversial decision to allow MPs a vote on an amendment to the timetable of the Brexit deal.
She told BBC Two’s Newsnight: “I’m less inclined to blame the speaker. I think that what we are seeing is the house asserting itself in the face of its concerns about no deal. I’m not really surprised about that.
“A majority of MPs are likely to come forward and say they want to stop no deal. I understand that. The real difficulty…is there doesn’t seem to be a coalescence around an alternative. The only deal we have is the withdrawal agreement.