The former defence secretary Michael Fallon has warned the UK prime minister that he risks driving remain supporters into the hands of the opposition, as he confirmed he would not be standing as a candidate at the next election.
Fallon, a remain supporter who backed Boris Johnson in the Tory leadership race, also called for the 21 rebel MPs who had the Conservative whip removed, to be allowed to appeal against the decision.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Fallon insisted his decision not to fight his Sevenoaks seat at the election had “nothing to do with Brexit” and offered muted support for Johnson.
But underlining backbench disquiet at the removal of the whip from rebels, including many former cabinet ministers, Fallon said: “I would hope there would be some kind of appeal mechanism, so they can get the chance to state their case.”
He said the treatment of the rebels who voted for a joint party bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit risked alienating remain voters.
Fallon said: “I worry that it sends the wrong message to remainers, particularly in my party. Some 5 million Conservatives must have voted remain, I think we’ve got to be very careful not to drive them into the hands of remainer parties, like the Liberal Democrats in England, or the Scottish nationalists in Scotland.”
He added: “We are doing one of the biggest things we’ve ever done in this country since the second world war, and it’s very important that we do try to take those who voted remain – and nearly half the country voted remain – with us.”
Fallon who resigned as defence secretary in 2017 after admitting that his behaviour towards women in the past had “fallen short”, said on his own future: “I was intending to stand down at the end of this parliament which I expected in a couple of years. It looks now as if there’s going to be an election and I don’t want to commit again for what could be another five years.”
He added he hoped Johnson could negotiate a new deal with the EU to ensure an orderly exit from the bloc: “There are important talks taking place in Dublin on Monday, there is still time to find a way through this with some kind of compromise agreement and it is very important, I think that those who voted remain, you know, do feel that they’re wanted with us on this voyage into a new future.”
On Johnson’s character and tactics he said: “I voted for somebody who would bring fresh energy and ambition to this Brexit process and bring it to an end. There are a lot of people who may have voted leave or remain who do now want this brought to an end. And I think the overall strategy of setting a final date at the end of October is the right one.”