General Election

Ken Clarke urges change of course on Brexit amid 'hopeless splits'

Father of the House Ken Clarke in the House of Commons, London, during its first sitting since the election on Tuesday. Picture by Press Association
Lizzy Buchan, Press Association

Former chancellor Ken Clarke has urged Britain's prime minister to change her approach to Brexit in an effort to restore public confidence in politics.

The Tory grandee is the latest high-profile figure to weigh in on Theresa May's Brexit strategy after former Conservative prime ministers David Cameron and Sir John Major both made rare interventions to urge the government to change course following the General Election.

Leaving the European Union is one of the most pressing issues facing Mrs May, as Brexit talks are due to start in Brussels on Monday.

Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "You cannot carry out this negotiation on the basis that every aspect of it is going to be negotiated with the DUP to get their vote in support of it and then you are going to try to get the entire Conservative Party to agree with each other on whatever you have tried to negotiate.

"Both parties, major parties, are hopelessly split on the issue.

"The public are very disillusioned with knockabout party politics after low-level debates in the referendum and the General Election.

"I think we'd restore confidence in politics if we could show that this Parliament can at least function in presenting a view in the national interest which could command the majority on a cross-party basis."

Mr Clarke, a prominent Remain voter, dismissed "silly arguments" that this was an attempt to overturn Brexit, saying MPs had settled the question by voting to trigger Article 50 in the last Parliament.

He said: "We're in a new situation and the national interest calls for a cross-party approach."

He said Mrs May was up against a "bigger test than any Prime Minister has faced" during his 47 years in Parliament, as he gave a cautious welcome to a possible pact with the DUP.

Talks continue between DUP leader Arlene Foster and the prime minister as the Tories needs the votes of the 10 DUP MPs to prop up a minority administration.

Asked about comments from 2010 where he joked, "In the end, you can always do a deal with an Ulsterman, but that's not the way to run a modern, sophisticated, society", Mr Clarke said the UK needed stability.

He said: "Negotiating with the guys in the DUP, you are up against a tough lot there.

"I don't mind negotiating with them and obviously we've got to have a Government, we have got to have a Queen's Speech, we need some stability.

"The one absolute thing however is no sectarian demands or concessions.

"The peace process has to be got going again and we need the Northern Ireland Assembly.

"Let's talk about the money, infrastructure, spending, all that kind of thing."

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