May’s make-your-mind-up Mon­day

Amid Cab­i­net fears of a heavy Com­mons de­feat, PM must de­cide whether to put off de­ci­sive vote

Scottish Daily Mail - - Countdown To Brexit D-day - By Jack Doyle Ex­ec­u­tive Po­lit­i­cal Editor

THERESA May will de­cide on Mon­day whether to pull the crunch Brexit vote amid in­tense pres­sure to push for a de­lay.

Sev­eral Cab­i­net min­is­ters have warned her she is head­ing for a heavy de­feat and urged her to seek fresh con­ces­sions from Brus­sels.

They fear if Mrs May goes ahead with Tues­day’s vote and loses by a large mar­gin it will prove fa­tal for her lead­er­ship – and open the door to a softer ‘Nor­way-style’ Brexit.

Last night it was claimed the PM had been warned by sev­eral Brex­it­back­ing aides that they are pre­pared to re­sign on Tues­day un­less there are ma­jor changes to her deal. Mike Wood, the par­lia­men­tary pri­vate sec­re­tary to Trade Sec­re­tary Liam Fox, told the Guardian he would quit and join leave-sup­port­ing back­benchers un­less changes were made.

It is un­der­stood that other ju­nior min­is­ters have made sim­i­lar rep­re­sen­ta­tions and more were con­sid­er­ing their po­si­tions.

Last night Am­ber Rudd be­came the first Cab­i­net min­is­ter to openly dis­cuss an al­ter­na­tive plan to Mrs May’s deal. The Work and Pen­sions Sec­re­tary told The Times a Nor­way-style ar­range­ment ‘seems plau­si­ble not just in terms of the coun­try but in terms of where the MPs are’. A Nor­way op­tion would keep Bri­tain tied to most EU laws and rules, in­clud­ing free move­ment and vast an­nual con­tri­bu­tions.

As many as ten se­nior min­is­ters have pri­vately dis­cussed back­ing the op­tion. How­ever, one min­is­ter de­scribed it as ‘ab­so­lutely hor­ren- dous’, adding: ‘It would split the party for a gen­er­a­tion.

‘It would also be the big­gest be­trayal of the British peo­ple. We’re in real dan­ger now.’

There were also signs last night that Labour is seek­ing to join forces with rebel Tories and the DUP to force Mrs May’s res­ig­na­tion in a no-con­fi­dence vote if her Brexit plan is heav­ily de­feated.

In pub­lic, Down­ing Street con­tin­ued to in­sist yes­ter­day that the vote on the with­drawal agree­ment would go ahead as planned.

But pri­vately aides ac­knowl­edged the Prime Min­is­ter would ‘take stock’ over the week­end at her coun­try re­treat of Che­quers be­fore reach­ing a de­ci­sion.

A fi­nal me­dia blitz is planned for the next 48 hours as Tory whips can­vass MPs on their in­ten­tions. Mrs May will then sit down with her in­ner cir­cle on Mon­day to make the call. At the meet­ing, Chief Whip Ju­lian Smith will present her with his fi­nal count of the num­ber of Tory MPs on whose sup­port she can rely. In re­cent weeks more than 100 Tory MPs have sig­nalled their op­po­si­tion.

One White­hall source said try­ing to con­vince rebels to fall in line was like ‘shout­ing out of a win­dow’. Last night, one Cab­i­net source said: ‘If we’re head­ing for three fig­ures de­feat then why go ahead with it?’

An amend­ment de­signed to limit the UK’s stay in the North­ern Ire­land back­stop ap­peared dead on ar­rival af­ter it was blasted by the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party – which props up the Tories in the Com­mons – and Euroscep­tics.

A poll also re­vealed that de­spite the chaos in West­min­ster, the par­ties are run­ning neck and neck among the pub­lic. Both Labour

‘Split the party for a gen­er­a­tion’

and the Con­ser­va­tives are on 38 per cent, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey by Ip­sos Mori.

May loy­al­ists are split over what the Prime Min­is­ter should do next. Some ar­gue that pulling the vote now and seek­ing con­ces­sions from Brus­sels at a sum­con­ces­sions mit next Thurs­day – or try­ing to find a leg­isla­tive route to sat­isfy MPs – is her only hope of get­ting the deal through. But oth­ers say any at­tempt to re­open the deal would be a ‘world of pain’ and im­me­di­ately prompt Spain, France and other coun­tries to de­mand on is­sues such as Gi­bral­tar and fish­ing. Last night one se­nior Tory warned Euroscep­tics that not vot­ing for the deal would ‘al­most cer­tainly’ mean leav­ing on softer terms. ‘Even­tu­ally you have to stare down the bar­rel,’ said the source. ‘There is no Par­lia­men­tary ma­noeu­vre which hard­ens the op­tions that we have now. They are go­ing to have to choose.’

Leader of the Com­mons An­drea Lead­som is also un­der­stood to be open to the idea of pulling the vote if there is a clear plan about what to do next. Hard­line Euroscep­tics ar­gue a huge de­feat would send a sig­nal to the EU that they would need to com­pro­mise.

The amend­ment, pro­posed by Tory loy­al­ists, would give MPs a vote in 2020 over whether to en­ter the back­stop or ex­tend the tran­si­tion pe­riod – and place a ‘duty’ on the govern­ment to have a work­able al­ter­na­tive within a year. But back­bench Tory Peter Bone told the BBC the amend­ment was ‘ab­so­lutely mean­ing­less’. He said: ‘It’s got no bind­ing force.’

DUP Leader Ar­lene Foster said: ‘Do­mes­tic leg­isla­tive tin­ker­ing won’t cut it.’ Last night US vice pres­i­dent Mike Pence spoke of a ‘strong part­ner­ship’ af­ter dis­cus­sions about Brexit with For­eign Sec­re­tary Jeremy Hunt.

It ap­peared to boost the chance of a UK-US deal af­ter Don­ald Trump last week in­di­cated the EU deal would make it hard to achieve.

Com­ment – Page 16

‘Ab­so­lutely mean­ing­less’

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