Brexit de­layed un­til fur­ther no­tice af­ter gang of four rebels

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - By Gor­don Rayner, Steven Swin­ford and Camilla Tominey

A PLOT to de­lay Brexit by up to two years was un­der­way last night af­ter four Cab­i­net min­is­ters be­trayed Theresa May by help­ing to kill no deal for good.

Brexit will be de­layed un­til June 30 even if MPS can be per­suaded to back a deal next week. If a deal is re­jected again a “much longer” de­lay will be in­evitable, Mrs May warned.

On a his­toric night in the Com­mons, Mrs May lost con­trol of her party – and the Brexit process – as Am­ber Rudd, David Gauke, Greg Clark and David Mun­dell de­fied a three-line whip by ab­stain­ing from a vote that would have kept no deal on the ta­ble if the Gov­ern­ment had won.

The Gov­ern­ment lost the vote by 321 votes to 278, forc­ing Mrs May to give MPS a vote on de­lay­ing Brexit tonight.

Mrs May said MPS would be able to vote for a “short, sharp” three-month de­lay, de­pen­dent on them vot­ing for a deal on or be­fore March 20.

The vote would con­tain pro­vi­sion for Mrs May to ask the EU for a longer de­lay at the Eu­ro­pean Coun­cil meet­ing on March 21, but that would mean Bri­tain hav­ing to take part in the Eu­ro­pean elec­tions in May. MPS are ex­pected to vote in favour of a de­lay this even­ing.

The Daily Tele­graph has learnt that min­is­ters have al­ready dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of a two-year de­lay.

A to­tal of 18 mem­bers of the Gov­ern­ment ei­ther voted for or ab­stained from a mo­tion to block no deal for good, de­spite them stand­ing on a man­i­festo that promised Bri­tain would be pre­pared to walk away from the EU with­out a deal.

Last night it emerged that a se­nior Gov­ern­ment fig­ure – a Re­main voter – told the min­is­ters they could ab­stain with­out be­ing sacked, in di­rect con­tra­dic­tion of Ju­lian Smith, the Chief Whip, who was said to be “in­can­des­cent”.

One MP said: “He went rogue – I don’t think [Mrs May] knew what he was do­ing. It was part of a plot to get Re­mainer rebels to block no deal.”

Mrs May is so weak­ened that she did not sack any of the min­is­ters who de­fied the whip, who also in­cluded Claire Perry, the busi­ness min­is­ter. Sarah New­ton, the min­is­ter for dis­abled peo­ple, was the only min­is­ter to re­sign.

The Tory Party was on the brink of open war­fare as Philip Ham­mond, the Chan­cel­lor, used his Spring State­ment to set out an al­ter­na­tive Brexit. He said it was time to “map out a way for­ward to­wards build­ing a con­sen­sus ... for a deal we can col­lec­tively sup­port” – a com­ment seen as a call to com­pro­mise with Labour, rather than pur­su­ing Mrs May’s path of win­ning over Tory MPS and call­ing a third vote on her deal.

Mrs May is now un­der pres­sure from some Cab­i­net mem­bers, in­clud­ing Mr Ham­mond, to hold a se­ries of so-called in­dica­tive votes to find out what Par­lia­ment wants. The votes on op­tions that could in­clude a “com­mon mar­ket 2.0” and even a cus­toms union would not be bind­ing, but would in­form the Gov­ern­ment of what sort of deal might com­mand a ma­jor­ity.

If she does not al­low such votes, a cross-party group plans to ta­ble an amend­ment to tonight’s vote to en­sure in­dica­tive votes hap­pened next week.

MPS re­jected an at­tempt by Brex­i­teers to change the date of Bri­tain’s exit from the EU to May 22 and then im­pose a “stand­still” pe­riod for two and half years to al­low a trade deal to be agreed. The so-called Malt­house Amend­ment was de­feated by 374 to 164, a ma­jor­ity of 210.

Iain Dun­can Smith, the for­mer Con­ser­va­tive leader, said: “I have never in 27 years as an MP seen any­thing like what is hap­pen­ing in Gov­ern­ment now.”

Cab­i­net rebels – clock­wise from top left, Am­ber Rudd, David Gauke, Greg Clark and David Mun­dell – ab­stained in de­fi­ance of a three-line whip

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