Divided Cabinet warns the PM they can’t keep backing her unless she chooses a side in the battle between ministers who want a soft Brexit and no deal at all
- Senior Tories warned the PM she could not expect indefinite support if she loses
- Ministers including Amber Rudd will urge the PM to back a softer form of Brexit
- Others such as Commons leader Andrea Leadsom prefer a ‘managed no deal’
Cabinet ministers are to demand a ‘Plan B’ for Brexit if Theresa May’s deal is heavily defeated tonight.
Senior Tory sources warned that the Prime Minister could not expect indefinite support for her plan if the Government is routed in tonight’s vote.
They said ministers will demand that she finally takes sides in the Cabinet battle over whether to pursue a softer Brexit or try to manage the worst effects of a ‘no-deal’ exit from the EU.
Allies of Mrs May last night indicated she would tell MPs tonight that she will continue to pursue her deal even if it is heavily defeated.
Amber Rudd (right) is among the ministers urging Mrs May to pursue a softer Brexit if she loses the vote while others including Andrea Leadsom (left) would prefer a ‘managed no deal’
‘What alternative is there?’ said one ally. ‘The EU has been very clear that this is the deal that is on the table.’
Mrs May said: ‘Nobody has yet come up with an alternative Brexit deal that is negotiable and that delivers on the result of the referendum.’
Last month’s failed attempt by Brexiteers to oust Mrs May means she cannot face another challenge from Tory backbenchers until the end of the year. However, senior Tories warned that she still has to retain the confidence of the Cabinet if she is to remain in post.
One Cabinet source said: ‘She is going to have to show more of her hand than she has until now. If we lose by 100 or 200, she cannot just carry on as if nothing has happened. It’s the definition of insanity to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.’
Mrs May is being pulled in different directions by rival factions in the Cabinet, with some wanting a ‘soft’ Brexit alternative and others wanting a ‘managed no deal’.
One grouping, which includes the Prime Minister’s deputy David Lidington, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, Justice Secretary David Gauke and Business Secretary Greg Clark, is urging her to pursue a softer Brexit if her deal is defeated tonight.
They are motivated by concern about the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit on the economy and jobs.
The group, which is also expected to receive the backing of Chancellor Philip Hammond, believes a cross-party consensus in Parliament might back a plan involving permanent membership of the customs union.
Theresa May (pictured in the Commons today) has made last-ditch efforts to persuade Conservative rebels to back her but MPs are expected to vote her deal down
That idea was specifically ruled out yesterday by Mrs May, who said an ‘independent trade policy’ – which would be impossible in a customs union – was one of the key opportunities of Brexit.
But one senior figure in the Cabinet’s soft Brexit grouping said they believed Mrs May would eventually side with them to avoid no deal.
Mrs May is being pulled in the opposite direction by a rival group whose members include former remainers such as Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, as well as Brexiteers such as International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Commons leader Andrea Leadsom.
This group believes a softer Brexit would not honour the result of the 2016 referendum. Supporters acknowledge that a no-deal Brexit would be ‘disruptive’, but think the worst effects could be contained.
Asked whether he agreed with the assessment that a no-deal Brexit would be ‘disastrous’, Mr Williamson said: ‘Not at all, Britain has always been a nation that will always achieve and will always deliver.’
At least one Cabinet backer of the idea has even suggested that Mrs May should call an election for early April to ensure that MPs are unable to block the UK’s exit at the end of March.