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PM May's successor must abandon her deal with EU: pro-Brexit Tories

London

PRIME Minister Theresa May's successor should abandon her Brexit deal and commit to taking Britain out of the European Union by October 31, an influential pro-Brexit group of Conservative lawmakers said on Wednesday.

Mrs May steps down as Conservative leader on Friday and the first round of voting among the party's lawmakers to elect her successor will take place next week.

Several of the 11 candidates have said they will seek changes to her deal, despite the EU saying it will not reopen negotiations.

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The European Research Group (ERG), whose opposition to Mrs May's deal helped defeat it three times in parliament, said Britain should not propose revising the agreement.

"The Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration have failed absolutely. They are not coming back. The next leader of the Conservative Party needs to know that and act on that basis," ERG deputy chairman Steve Baker said.

In a paper titled "A clean managed Brexit" published on Wednesday, the group said the delay to Britain's departure had done severe damage to public trust and posed "an existential threat" to the Conservative Party.

"It must therefore be the unshakable policy of the government to leave the EU by 31 October 2019," it said.

Many of the leadership contenders, including frontrunner Boris Johnson, have said Britain must leave on October 31 with or without a deal, but others have warned more time may be needed to reach an agreement with the EU and that parliament, which opposes a "no deal", would try and block it.

The ERG paper said leaving without a deal was not its desired outcome but Britain should be prepared to do so and it may be necessary to trade on World Trade Organization terms until a free trade agreement (FTA) could be reached with the EU.

During this time, Britain should offer bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual interest, it said.

"Commencement of negotiation of the EU-UK FTA should be sought as soon as possible after the appointment of a new British Prime Minister, well before the UK departs the EU on 31 October," the paper said.

The group added that the government should not have to pay the 39 billion pound (S$67.71 billion) divorce bill if Britain leaves without a deal and could instead use much of that money to mitigate the impact of leaving without an agreement.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson, frontrunner to replace Mrs May, cannot win a general election without broadening his appeal to floating voters who instinctively distrust him, Conservative polling specialist Robert Hayward said on Wednesday.

Mr Johnson, 54, a former London mayor and foreign minister, has been rallying support for his leadership bid among Conservative lawmakers and the wider party by saying he is the only candidate who can deliver Brexit and win a national election.

But Mr Hayward, a Conservative member of parliament's upper chamber, told reporters that while the first part of his message - that he can deliver Britain's delayed departure from the European Union - is scoring well with voters, his lack of appeal among so-called middle England could lose him any election. REUTERS

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