Who are the Tory ‘Spartans’?

The self-proclaimed political warriors want a hard Brexit

Tory Spartan Steve Baker has described himself as a ‘Brexit hardman’
(Image credit: UK Parliament)

The ongoing saga of Britain’s exit from the EU has spawned many new words and phrases, not least “Brexit”.

But one of the newer labels thrown up by the long-running drama is that adopted by a group of Eurosceptic Tory hardliners: the Spartans.

The original Spartans were people of the Ancient Greek warrior society of Sparta that prioritised loyalty to the state and military service. They were defeated by Thebes at the Battles of Leuctra in 371BC, ending Sparta’s centuries-long supremacy in the region.

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What becomes of the Conservative iteration of the Spartans remains to be seen.

Who are the Tory Spartans?

The Spartans are a group of Brexiteer rebels who are the Tory party’s most hard-line Eurosceptics.

The troop - made up of members of the right-wing Conservative European Research Group - refused to back then-prime minister Theresa May’s thrice-rejected Brexit deal, arguing that the Irish backstop could have kept the UK trapped indefinitely in a customs union with the EU.

But the Spartans “finally laid down their weapons” to vote for Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal in October, as The Telegraph reported at the time.

Spartan Andrew Bridgen said ahead of the vote: “It looks like Brexit, it smells like Brexit - that’s Brexit for me. I’m willing to suck up quite a lot on the withdrawal agreement I don’t like to facilitate getting to Brexit.”

The leader of the hardliners is Wycombe MP Steve Baker, who once described himself as a “Brexit hardman”. The Guardian’s Marina Hyde says Baker is one of the “the macho drama queens of Brexit”, known for his “insistence on presenting as a lone Chuck Norris”.

He does have a right-hand man, however, in the form of Mark Francois - “the undisputed breakout star of Britain’s Brexit shitshow”, according to Hyde.

When asked why he wouldn’t take May’s Brexit deal and “bank the win”, Francois, who briefly served in the Territorial Army, said: “I was in the army, I wasn’t trained to lose.”

Indeed, the Rayleigh and Wickford MP has become known for his bizarre turns of phrase and antics. Francois was spotted in September wearing a police stab vest while going from pub to pub with an Essex Police patrol team in his local constituency.

Why did they choose this name?

The legend of the Battle of Thermopylae, in 480BC, tells the story of the sacrifice of 300 Spartans who fought to the death to protect their city.

The story “has a modern-day Brexit resonance” that clearly appealed to those who now style themselves as Spartans, suggests political blog ConservativeHome.

Some of the modern Spartans have described the battle to quit the EU in fittingly war-like terms, with Francois previously warning that Britain “would explode” if the country didn’t leave the bloc on 31 October.

How much influence do they have?

The group’s biggest self-proclaimed success was arguably in preventing May’s deal from getting through Parliament.

Baker tried to flex his muscles again more recently, insisting that Johnson would have to make an election pact with Nigel Farage in the upcoming December poll. The Tory Spartan dropped his demand as soon as it became clear that the prime minister wouldn’t be playing ball, however.

Baker subseqently told HuffPost: “A pre-Brexit pact with the Brexit Party won’t happen all the time Nigel Farage insists the Conservatives pursue no-deal, which won’t happen.

“Boris will have to win without any arrangement.”

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