Brexit vote could force major split in Conservatives
The Tories are on the brink of a historic split, senior Conservatives warned, as Brexiteers and Remainers both threatened to torpedo the British Government if they don’t get their way.
Pro-EU MPs claimed a third of the Cabinet would resign if Prime Minister Theresa May pursues a no-deal Brexit in the face of almost certain defeat over her deal, as they threatened a walkout of backbenchers that would obliterate the Government’s Commons majority.
At the same time, several senior ministers are agitating for May to open talks with Labour MPs about a compromise involving a permanent customs union if her deal falls by a notable margin on Wednesday NZT.
One senior Tory said: “A growing number of the Cabinet now think the only feasible option is to tack towards a softer Brexit involving a permanent customs union, in order to get a deal through with Labour votes. Amber [Rudd], David [Gauke], Greg Clark and Michael Gove have also made noises along those lines.”
Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the European Research Group of Eurosceptics, warned that the move would risk a major split.
“It’s difficult to see how at least some Conservative MPs would not withdraw confidence in the Government.”
Sir Bernard Jenkin, a senior proLeave MP, said if May departed from the March 29 exit date or struck a deal with Labour for a softer Brexit, “I don’t know what happens to the Conservative Party.”
The warnings underscore the potential magnitude of the vote, amid growing calls for a second referendum or extension of Britain’s EU membership beyond March. One Tory MP said: “We’re heading towards a brick wall at 100mph and are going to be smashed to smithereens.”
Sources said several Cabinet ministers would lead a push for a softer Brexit that could draw the support of Labour MPs, if May’s deal is defeated by a significant margin.
— Telegraph Group Ltd