Saturday 23 February 2019

Mutiny threat if May denies MPs vote to stop 'no deal'

UK Prime Minister tells Cabinet it is 'impossible' to rule out crash

UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Steven Swinford and Anna Mikhailova

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is being warned by Cabinet ministers she will face mass resignations unless she allows MPs to try to stop a no-deal Brexit.

The prime minister said yesterday it was "impossible" to rule out a no-deal Brexit under the terms of Article 50 and said it was "not in the Government's power" to do so.

However, as many as 20 mid-ranking ministers have indicated they are prepared to quit the Government so they can support back-bench moves to stop a no-deal Brexit.

It is understood a delegation of five ministers from the group visited the prime minister in No 10 yesterday and warned her directly they were prepared to quit.

A cabinet minister said: "The prime minister will come under a lot of pressure to give ministers a free vote on it. I think she would be wise to do that because she doesn't really want people to resign, and there are definitely people who would resign over it.

"It is hard to see the Government defeating it if people vote in line with their views. It damages people's credibility to have to take a leave of absence to avoid having to vote against something. I don't think people want to do that."

Hoping for a lift: First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon arrives at the Scottish Parliament
to answer questions on Brexit yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Hoping for a lift: First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon arrives at the Scottish Parliament to answer questions on Brexit yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

The row erupted after a recording was leaked of a conference call between Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and business leaders in which he set out how a back-bench Bill could take no deal "off the table".

He claimed the Bill, which will be tabled on Monday and would force the Government to extend Article 50, is likely to win support and act as the "ultimate backstop" against a no-deal Brexit.

The chancellor faced a cabinet backlash yesterday, with one minister describing him as a "rogue element" and accusing him of attempting to "bounce" the cabinet into abandoning the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the Commons, warned taking a no-deal Brexit off the table would be "incompetent".

A Treasury source insisted Mr Hammond was simply "setting out the facts as they exist" in response to questions from business leaders.

Mrs May appeared directly to contradict Mr Hammond's claim yesterday in a letter to Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, after he refused to take part in cross-party talks on Brexit. She said: "I note that you have said 'ruling out' no deal is a precondition before we can meet, but that is an impossible condition because it is not within the Government's power to rule out no deal. Let me explain why.

"Under article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and the Withdrawal Act 2018, we will leave the EU without a deal on March 29 unless Parliament either agrees a deal with the EU or the UK revokes article 50 and chooses to stay in the EU permanently.

"So there are two ways to avoid no deal: either vote for a deal, in particular a withdrawal agreement, that has been agreed with the EU, or to revoke Article 50 and overturn the referendum result."

Mrs May's comments also appeared to be a criticism of the cross-party Bill tabled by Nick Boles, a Tory MP, which would force the Government to extend Article 50 if a Brexit deal could not be reached by February 26. Mr Boles will table a new "streamlined" version of his Bill on Monday in an attempt to ensure it attracts cross-party support.

The prime minister held a series of meetings yesterday with both Tory MPs and those from other parties in a bid to develop a new Brexit plan.

Tory Eurosceptics said their meeting had been "constructive" amid suggestions the prime minister had ruled out tacking to a customs union.

A group of Tory MPs who support a Norway-style Brexit met Mrs May after lunchtime and also said they felt she had been receptive.

However another source said it sounded as if the Prime Minister had been "all things to all people", with one MP saying she had been "like a sphynx".

Mr Corbyn had ordered his MPs not to take part in Mrs May's bid to win support for her deal unless no deal is taken off the table. However, he was defied by backbenchers including Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn.

Irish Independent

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