Tuesday 15 October 2019

Conservative mutiny makes a no-deal Brexit 'more likely', May concedes

Absent: Theresa May was not in Parliament for the defeat. Photo: Reuters
Absent: Theresa May was not in Parliament for the defeat. Photo: Reuters

Gordon Rayner and Steven Swinford

Theresa May has said a no-deal Brexit is "more likely" after Conservative Eurosceptics condemned her to another humiliating defeat.

The brief Tory truce over Brexit was shattered as 66 Conservatives - including Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab - abstained in a vote over the British government's way forward, which Mrs May lost by 303 votes to 258.

It was a serious blow to Mrs May's chances of winning concessions from Brussels over the Brexit deal. She had told the EU a vote in favour of her strategy last month gave her a "stable majority" for the deal she wanted to broker, but that was wiped out at a stroke by her 45-vote defeat.

Brexiteers from the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory MPs refused to back a Government motion that followed a day-long Brexit debate because they believed it meant no deal was being taken off the table.

The ERG claimed the result proved the only way Mrs May could get a deal through parliament was if she persuaded the EU to drop the Northern Ireland backstop completely and replace it with "alternative arrangements".

But Mrs May, who was absent from the Commons chamber when the result was announced, insisted the net result was to make no deal more likely.

Deflecting the blame on to Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, who had ordered his MPs to vote against the Government, a Downing Street spokesman said: "By voting against the Government's motion, he is in effect voting to make no deal more likely."

Mrs May acknowledged "there was concern from some colleagues about taking no-deal off the table at this stage".

Mr Corbyn, who wants Mrs May to agree to a customs union with the EU, said there was now "no majority for the prime minister's course of action" and without a coherent plan she cannot just keep running down the clock and hoping something will turn up".

The ERG used the result to turn up the pressure on Mrs May to accept the so-called Malthouse compromise to break the impasse.

Supported by Brexiteers and Remainers in the Conservative Party, it calls for the backstop to be removed and replaced with a plan for a free trade agreement with the EU.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the ERG, said: "The message is there is a majority for the Malthouse compromise, but the government needs to work with its backbenchers rather than against them."

However, Richard Harrington, the business minister, described the Malthouse plan as "fanciful nonsense" last night, in comments that will do nothing to bring the various Tory factions together.

A Labour amendment calling for a meaningful vote on a revised deal to be held by February 27 was defeated by 322 to 306, while an SNP amendment that would have ordered an extension to Article 50 was defeated by 315 to 93.


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