Brexit delayed until further notice after gang of four rebels
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