One last roll of the dice
May bets all on third and final attempt to get her Brexit deal through the Commons
THERESA MAY will hold a third “meaningful vote” on Brexit after MPS authorised her to ask for a lengthy delay if a deal has not been agreed by next Wednesday.
Huge pressure is now being put on the DUP and Conservative Brexiteers to fall in behind the Prime Minister’s deal to avoid the risk of Article 50 having to be extended by up to two years.
However, it emerged last night that the “star chamber” of legally-trained Brexiteer MPS has already rejected fresh legal advice from Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, over the Northern Irish backstop.
Last night, MPS voted by 413 votes to 202 in favour of delaying Brexit by at least three months, but Mrs May had to rely on Labour support for a mandate after more than half of Conservative MPS opposed a delay.
In an extraordinary turn of events, 188 Tories voted against the Government motion to delay Brexit, including Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, and six other Cabinet ministers. Only 112 Tories backed the motion.
Mrs May had allowed a free vote, meaning none of the ministers will have to resign, but the mass rebellion against the Government line was another shattering blow to the Prime Minister’s dwindling authority.
The decision to hold a third vote on her deal could trigger a constitutional clash with the Speaker, as parliamentary rules state that the same motion cannot be put to a vote again in the same session once it has been defeated.
If John Bercow decided to block a third vote, Mrs May would have no choice but to ask the EU for a long exserving” tension. EU sources suggested a delay of at least a year would be needed in such circumstances, and Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said he would recommend a “long extension” at next week’s EU leaders’ summit if the UK found it necessary to “rethink its Brexit strategy and build a consensus around it”. Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, indicated yesterday that she believed there was still time for revisions to the deal that could win her support. “We want to make sure we get there,” she said, adding: “When you come to end of a negotiation, that’s when you start to see the whites in people’s eyes and you get down to point where you can make a deal.”
If the DUP backed a deal, a large number of Tory Brexiteers have already indicated they could follow suit.
However, several hardline Tory Eurosceptics, including Steve Baker, the deputy leader of the European Research Group, said they would continue to vote down the current deal “come what may”.
Sir Christopher Chope, a Tory Eurosceptic, said he was so unhappy with Mrs May’s handling of Brexit that he would “seriously consider” voting to bring down the Government if Labour tabled a motion of no confidence.
Even before last night’s vote, Cabinet divisions had flared when Mrs May held a lunchtime meeting with ministers and accused some of being “self and “posturing” following regular leaks of Cabinet discussions.
The evening then descended into farce when Mr Barclay closed the debate on the Government motion to delay Brexit by urging MPS to vote for it, then promptly voted against it himself.
Julian Smith, the Chief Whip, whose job is to persuade MPS to back Government motions, abstained.
David Gauke, the Justice Secretary, was reportedly asked to quit by Tory whips yesterday after defying Theresa May by failing to follow the Government line on a crunch no-deal vote on Wednesday night. But sources claimed that he warned his departure would trigger a mass walkout by more than a dozen other ministers.
In the main motion, some 17 Tory MPS voted against no deal and a further 29 abstained, including four Cabinet ministers, Mr Gauke, Greg Clark, Amber Rudd and David Mundell.
If Mrs May fails to win backing for a deal next week, she will ask for an extension at the EU summit on Thursday, before making a parliamentary statement on her next steps on March 25.
David Lidington, the Cabinet Office Minister, hinted that MPS would then have a chance to hold a series of indicative votes to canvass opinion on what sort of deal could win support.
An attempt by MPS to seize control of the Brexit process by taking over the parliamentary schedule and holding indicative votes was defeated by a margin of two votes last night. An amendment calling for a second referendum was defeated by a majority of 249 after Labour abstained. A Labour amendment to delay Brexit for a new approach to be discussed was defeated by 318 to 302, while an amendment to block a third “meaningful vote” was not moved.
MORE than half of Theresa May’s own MPS, including seven Cabinet ministers, voted against her plan to delay Brexit. The Prime Minister’s proposal to seek an extension to Article 50 was backed by 413 votes to 202, but the overwhelming majority of those who opposed her came from her own benches.
Some 188 Conservative MPS voted against Mrs May’s plan amid growing fears that delaying the UK’S departure from the European Union could ultimately lead to Britain remaining in the bloc.
Ultimately, the Prime Minister was reliant on the votes of Labour MPS to pull through as she was largely aban- doned by Tory Eurosceptics. Mrs May suffered a Cabinet revolt for a second day in a row as seven of her top team voted against her.
They were: Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary; Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary; Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary; Andrea Leadsom, the Commons Leader; Penny Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary; Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury; and Gavin Williamson, Defence Secretary. Mr Barclay voted against the motion deconservative spite having closed the debate at the dispatch box for the Government.
Mr Barclay had told MPS before the vote it was “time for this House to act in the national interest” and “put forward an extension that is realistic” as he commended the Prime Minister’s motion.
Alun Cairns, the Welsh Secretary, and Julian Smith, the Chief Whip, both abstained.
Mr Smith, who is responsible for enforcing Tory voting discipline, reportedly abstained because he wanted to
be viewed as impartial on the Brexit debate by the two warring wings of the Party. However, the rest of the Cabinet, including Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt, supported postponing Brexit in a move that could harm their chances in any future Tory leadership campaign.
Ms Truss confirmed in a tweet that she had voted against delaying Brexit as she stressed the importance of delivering on the 2016 EU referendum result and urged the Government to “get on with it”.
She said: “I voted against a delay to Brexit. As a delay was passed by Parlia-
‘I still want to deliver the Prime Minister’s withdrawal deal by March 29, that is my preference’
‘It must be a swift extension, with purpose. We must deliver the result of the referendum’
ment, I want to see a deal agreed ASAP so we can minimise to a short, technical, extension.”
Ms Mordaunt echoed the sentiment as she said any delay must be “swift”.
“Tonight I voted against delaying Brexit, but the Parliament agreed to an extension,” she said.
“It must be a swift one, with purpose. We must deliver the result of the referendum, and hurry up about it.”
The fact that more than half of the Conservative Party’s 314 MPS opted to go against Mrs May highlighted the Herculean task facing the Prime Minister as she tries to stop her party from ripping itself apart over Europe.
Just 112 Tory MPS supported the Prime Minister’s plan as she was forced to rely on the support of 236 Labour members to get across the line.
Many of those Tories who backed the plan will have done so despite a feeling of unease given the fact that a Brexit delay is likely to spark anger among Leave voters.
Their priority will now be ensuring any delay is kept as short as possible. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and one of those Tory MPS who voted in favour of a delay, said it would be a “disaster” to have a long extension if the EU insisted on a Brexit delay of around two years.
“I think people want to get on with this,” he said. Mr Hancock insisted that it might still be possible for the UK to leave the EU with a deal on March 29. “I still want to deliver the Prime Minister’s deal by March 29, that is my preference,” he said.
“It is very difficult and tight to do that, but it is possible and tonight’s votes confirm that.”
Mrs May had given her MPS a free vote on the issue of delaying Brexit which means that none of those ministers who voted against her will face the sack or be forced to resign.
However, the scale of the rebellion against the Prime Minister will have dampened spirits in Downing Street.
It was not just senior members of the Government who voted against Mrs May as a number of junior ministers also went through the opposing voting lobby. Ben Wallace, the security minister, John Glen, the Treasury minister, Caroline Dinenage, the health minister, Nusrat Ghani, the transport minister, Rishi Sunak, the communities minister, Nadhim Zahawi, the children’s minister, and Jackie Doyle-price, the health minister, also voted against the PM.
James Cleverly, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, also opposed a delay. Just three Labour MPS voted against the Government’s extension motion.
An anti-brexit protester outside Parliament. Campaigners on both sides of the divide have kept up a presence in Westminster as the exit date nears