Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has strongly criticised the Prime Minister’s Brexit proposals – agreed by her Cabinet at Chequers – using some colourful language, according to reports.
It has emerged that Mr Johnson claimed defending the plans was like “polishing a turd” during an away day at the country retreat.
The Cabinet was summoned by Mrs May to thrash out proposals on the UK’s future relationship with the EU in a marathon session of talks.
Despite his reservations, Mr Johnson fell into line along with the rest of the Cabinet’s Brexit-backing ministers.
But the Prime Minister faces a Brexiteer backlash over the plans agreed on Friday.
Mrs May said the deal would make sure Brexit was delivered “because I won’t let people down”.
But backbench Tory Brexiteers hit out at the plans, with speculation at Westminster that some could be prepared to submit formal letters calling for a leadership contest.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen compared the Foreign Secretary to Neville Chamberlain, accusing him of “waving the white flag of appeasement in the direction of Brussels”, along with other Brexiteer ministers.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reported that in a draft leadership letter circulating in Westminster, rebel Tories accuse the Prime Minister of letting the negotiations with Brussels descend “into a state of complete capitulation”.
Mr Bridgen, writing in the Mail on Sunday, said Jacob Rees-Mogg – leader of the pro-Brexit European Research Group – was now the only credible challenger to Mrs May after the failure by Cabinet ministers to oppose the Chequers plan.
But Mrs May told the Sunday Times: “The only challenge that needs to be made now is to the European Union to get serious about this, to come round the table and discuss it with us.”
She was supported in a joint column written by Chancellor Philip Hammond and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in the Sunday Telegraph which said: “What was agreed at Chequers on Friday night is a pragmatic as well as a principled Brexit deal, one that works for both the EU and the UK.”
The Prime Minister will address Tory MPs on Monday and her chief of staff Gavin Barwell has been engaged in efforts to explain the Chequers deal to concerned colleagues alongside Chief Whip Julian Smith.
The plans agreed at Chequers would create a new UK-EU free trade area for goods, with a “common rulebook”.
A new “facilitated customs arrangement” would remove the need for checks at the Irish border and ports, treating the UK and EU “as if a combined customs territory”.
Tories who attended the first briefing organised by Downing Street on the plans said their concerns had been met, and Mrs May will hope that restive Brexiteers also fall in line when they hear more about the proposals which will be set out in a white paper on Thursday.
James Cleverly, a deputy chairman of the party who attended the Saturday morning briefing, said: “I went in there with some concerns as a Brexiteer and I come out with those concerns addressed.”
He said the briefings “will massively calm the nerves of people who have been basing their views on the speculation that has been floating around in the media and social media”.
The Prime Minister told the BBC: “We’re leaving the European Union. I think when people voted to leave the European Union, they wanted an end to free movement – free movement will end.
“They wanted us to end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK – that will end.
“But we’ll do it in a way that protects drops and enhances our economy for the future.”