Theresa May is facing the threat of Cabinet meltdown today as ministers clashed openly over a ‘Plan B’ for Brexit.
In the wake of the catastrophic defeat on her deal, the Prime Minister faces a desperate battle to avoid a civil war between Remainers and Eurosceptics in her senior team.
Mrs May has said she will ‘open discussions’ with senior MPs from other parties as she tries to forge a Parliamentary majority on the way forward. Her effective deputy David Lidington has been put in charge of the charm offensive.
But the premier came out fighting this afternoon as she insisted the UK will still leave the EU at the end of March, and again ruled out staying in a customs union with the bloc.
Justice Secretary David Gauke appeared to contradict Mrs May this afternoon by warning it was no longer possible for the government to ‘box ourselves in’ with red lines such as on the customs union.
And Chancellor Philip Hammond is said to have suggested to business leaders in a phone call last night that Article 50 would be extended and the government was entering a ‘new era’ in its approach.
The Tory splits deepened after a Cabinet meeting yesterday where Remain-leaning ministers including Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and Mr Gauke again urged Mrs May to call ‘indicative votes’ in the Commons on how to go forward with Brexit.
A Cabinet source told MailOnline a more hawkish group led by Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Gavin Williamson and Andrea Leadsom gave the idea a ‘good kicking’. Another said the proposal was ‘heavily sat on’.
Tory chairman Brandon Lewis also waded in by warning that party activists would not tolerate Mrs May making overtures to Labour MPs for a soft Brexit.
Theresa May launched a furious attack on the Labour leader in brutal clashes at PMQs ahead of a no-confidence vote tonight
Justice Secretary David Gauke (pictured left today) hinted that he wants the government to support a permanent customs union with the EU. Chancellor Philip Hammond (right) is said to have suggested in a call with business leaders that Article 50 would be extended
Andrea Leadsom (pictured) suggested Mrs May would not be reaching out to Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit – branding him ‘insincere’ and not prepared to engage ‘constructively’
How do the Cabinet factions break down?
The Cabinet has – just about – been able to unite around delivering Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
But now that it has been trounced in the Commons, simmering tensions are coming to the boil.
Two distinct factions have been developing, with a Remain-leaning group pushing for a softer approach that reaches out to MPs across parties – and Brexiteers taking a more hawkish line.
Focused on avoiding economic fallout from Brexit and preventing a left-wing Corbyn administration, he is believed to regard both no-deal and failure to take the UK out of the EU as unacceptable.
Stayed out of the row over ‘indicative votes’ but likely to side with the Remain faction on the need to protect business interests.
Before she was brought back into the Cabinet in November, Ms Rudd had aligned to the campaign for a second Brexit referendum.
Since then she has led calls for ‘indicative votes’ to be staged in Cabinet, and urged the government to rule out no-deal Brexit.
Has broken ranks to warn publicly that no deal would be a disaster, and suggested he will quit if it becomes government policy.
Another prepared to quit if the government goes for no-deal, and has hinted that he wants joining a permanent customs union to become government policy.
A long-standing ally of Mrs May, she usually follows the PM’s lead but is generally on the side of the Remainers.
A staunch Remainer in the referendum, the Foreign Secretary has since been reborn as an ardent Brexiteer – with many speculating about his leadership ambitions.
Led the ‘kicking’ for the ‘indicative votes’ proposal, and was against ruling out no deal.
Another favourite for the Tory leadership, has taken a practical approach but might support a ‘managed’ no-deal Brexit above delaying or cancelling Article 50.
Having spearheaded the Leave campaign with Boris Johnson, has been remarkably loyal to May’s deal since wavering over quitting in November.
Does not want a no-deal, but is adamant Brexit must happen and deeply opposed to a second referendum.
Vehemently opposed to the ‘indicative votes’ idea, and close to the DUP, Mr Williamson has tended to side with the Brexiteers. He also harbours leadership ambitions which would be helped by a tough stance.
One of the original Brexiteers in Cabinet, adamant that there must be no delays and would back no deal over cancelling or holding a referendum.
The PM has been left scrambling to find a way forward after suffering the biggest Commons loss ever for a government, with an extraordinary 118 Tories rebelling against the plan.
More than a third of the parliamentary party, joined forces with Labour to sink Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement by 432 votes to 202 – a majority of 230 – on a dramatic day at Westminster.
Moments after the result was announced Mr Corbyn announced he would table a no-confidence motion, which MPs will vote on tonight, in a bid to force a general election.
But the PM’s Northern Irish allies, and Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson Jacob Rees-Mogg have all pledged to support her, meaning she is likely to survive.
In the House this afternoon, Mr Corbyn challenged Mrs May to agree to a permanent customs union with the EU, and rule out no-deal Brexit.
But Mrs May shot back: ‘There are actually two ways of avoiding no-deal. The first is to agree a deal. And the second would be to revoke Article 50.
‘Now that would mean staying in the European Union, failing to respect the result of the referendum – and that is something that this government will not do.’
The defiant stance came as the EU and MPs heaped pressure on Mrs May to change tack, with calls for another national vote and Michel Barnier urging her to drop ‘red lines’.
Mrs May’s escape routes appear to be closing, with the EU signalling a tough line. The bloc’s chief negotiator Mr Barnier goaded the premier by demanding she respond by abandoning her long-standing negotiation positions, such as ending free movement, ruling out a permanent customs union, and ending the jurisdiction of EU law.
While saying he was ‘sad’ the deal had been rejected, Mr Barnier suggested the defeat was an ‘opportunity’ to stay more closely aligned with the EU.
Mrs May said veteran left-winger Mr Corbyn (pictured today) would push up taxes, destroy jobs and wreck the public finances
Dawn at Downing Street today where Mrs May faces yet another battle for her political life with a confidence vote that could spark a general election at 7pm tonight
Interviewed on the BBC’s Politics Live, Mr Gauke dropped a heavy hint that he wanted the government to back a permanent customs union.
‘I think the position today is given what happened in the House of Commons yesterday when we were defeated very heavily, the Prime Minister rightly said we need to engage across parliament, we need to do that constructively,’ he said.
‘When it comes to a customs union, our principle is that we are in favour of leaving the customs union so we can enter into trade agreements and no longer trade on WTO terms with third countries.
‘But at this stage what we are doing is engaging with parliamentary opinion.’
Pressed on whether leaving the customs union was still a ‘red line’, Mr Gauke said: ‘I don’t think we can today be boxing ourselves in, what we ned to be doing is engaging across Parliament, seeing what ideas emerge where the support is for those particular ideas.
‘And at that point we need to make an assessment – is there something that is both negotiable with the European Union and something which could have a majority support in the House of Commons.
‘Today is about making an assessment of where the numbers are.’
The PM’s spokesman played down the Cabinet split on the customs union in the wake of Mr Gauke’s comments and insisted Mrs May’s policy had not changed.
He said: ‘His starting point is that there are advantages to being outside the customs and that is the Government’s policy.’
He also denied that the PM had softened her policy on extending Article 50 and delaying Brexit.
He said: ‘It is the government’s policy to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019 – that is of course the Government’s longstanding position.
‘What she was doing was responding to the suggestion of others that if Parliament were unable to make up its mind or some other situation to arise some people have a perception it is the unilateral ability of the Government to be able to extend Article 50 – that is not the case. It would require the ratification and agreement of the other 27 member states.’
Mrs Leadsom said this morning that the PM would ‘not necessarily be looking for new ideas that no-one has thought of before’, but instead ‘seeking a consensus, a fresh initiative to find a solution that is negotiable with the EU and that would command a majority in the House of Commons’.
How does the Brexit vote measure up to previous Commons showdowns?
166 – Labour goverment in 1924
The largest government defeat in modern times occurred on October 8 1924, when the minority Labour government of Ramsay MacDonald lost a vote by 364 votes to 198.
The vote was on an amendment put forward by the Liberal Party to set up a select committee to investigate the Government’s decision to drop criminal proceedings against JR Campbell, editor of the Communist newspaper Workers Weekly, which had recently published an article encouraging the armed forces to mutiny.
89 – Labour government in 1979
On March 22 1979, in the last few weeks of the Labour government led by Jim Callaghan, MPs voted on a motion to annul the fees for a firearms certificate.
Although the numbers taking part were low, the Government lost by 115 to 26.
86 – Labour government in 1978
The largest post-war defeat where at least half of MPs took part. It happened on January 25 1978, when MPs voted by 204 to 118 on an opposition amendment to the Callaghan government’s Scotland Devolution Bill.
The legislation had excluded Orkney and Shetland from the provisions of the Bill if they voted ‘no’ in a referendum.
But the Cabinet minister suggested Mrs May would not be reaching out to Mr Corbyn – branding him ‘insincere’ and not prepared to engage ‘constructively’.
‘He has not put forward any specific constructive proposal and that is a problem, which is why the Prime Minister will be engaging right across the House with those who do have very sincerely held views but want to constructively deliver on what the vast majority of parliamentarians voted for,’ Mrs Leadsom told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Mr Hammond and Business Secretary Mr Clark used a private telephone call to tell business chiefs not to expect changes to the legal Brexit withdrawal text, but rather to the political declaration on future relations with the EU, according to Government sources.
Mr Hammond told those on the call the Government would not put any ‘obstacles’ in the way of a plan by Tory MP Nick Boles to give senior backbenchers a role in finding a solution to the deadlock, according to the Financial Times. The plan could see the Article 50 process delayed beyond March.
‘We have to reach out to MPs in the Commons first,’ the Chancellor is reported to have said. ‘There is a large majority in the Commons that is opposed to no-deal.’
Other business leaders said Mr Hammond had said the government was entering a ‘new era’ in its Brexit policy.
Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg this morning, Mr Barnier said the deal on the table was still the best available unless Mrs May dropped her red lines.
‘If the United Kingdom chooses to let its red lines change in future, and that it takes this choice for its advantage of the ambition of going beyond a simple but not negligible free trade accord, then the European Union would be ready immediately to … respond favorably,’ he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also heaped pressure on Mrs May, saying it was down to her to propose solutions.
‘We still have time to negotiate but we’re now waiting on what the prime minister proposes,’ Mrs May told reporters.
The margin of 230 in the vote on Mrs May’s deal was by far the largest government defeat on record, higher than the 166 votes by which the minority Labour government lost a division in 1924.
Cheering could be heard by crowds of protesters gathered outside Parliament as the news filtered through – while the EU expressed shock.
Rising to her feet moments after the drubbing, a clearly shaken Mrs May said the government will ‘listen’ and announced she would fight a no-confidence vote today – effectively daring Mr Corbyn to call one.
He immediately accepted the challenge, saying she had reached the ‘end of the line’ and a general election was now essential.
Mrs May jibed that while it was ‘clear’ the House did not support her deal, there was no clarity about what MPs did back.
‘It is clear that the House does not support this deal. But tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support. Nothing about how – or even if – it intends to honour the decision the British people took in a referendum Parliament decided to hold,’ she said.
‘People, particularly EU citizens who have made their home here and UK citizens living in the EU, deserve clarity on these questions as soon as possible. Those whose jobs rely on our trade with the EU need that clarity.’
Downing Street sources said in the wake of the devastating result, which threatens to plunge the Brexit process further into chaos, it would be reaching out to ‘senior Parliamentarians’ in a bid to find a way forward.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel heaped pressure on Mrs May by saying it was for the PM to propose Brexit solutions
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier (pictured at the European Parliament today) goaded Mrs May by demanding she respond by abandoning her long-standing negotiation positions, such as ending free movement, ruling out a permanent customs union, and ending the jurisdiction of EU law
The pound rose sharply against the US dollar and euro, as markets seemingly concluded that the UK’s departure from the EU had become less likely to happen.
Remainers and Brexiteers were jubilant about the rout, with Mr Johnson saying it was even larger than he had expected and demanding the Irish border backstop is dropped.
Pro-EU factions seized on the outcome to push for a second referendum, with Scottish First minister Nicola Sturgeon hailing the setback for the government, and the Lib Dems saying it was the ‘beginning of the end of Brexit’.
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage has called on Tory MPs who ‘believe in Brexit’ to be brave and resist the Article 50 leaving date of March 29 being extended – and urged them to dump Mrs May as PM and replace her with a Brexiteer calling it a Neville Chamberlain moment.
Assuming she survives the no-confidence vote, Mrs May has until January 21 to set out a Plan B, with the clock ticking on the scheduled date of Brexit in just 73 days’ time on March 29.
Jean-Claude Juncker, who had cancelled travel plans in order to be in Brussels for the aftermath of the vote, voiced ‘regret’ at the defeat of what he termed ‘the best possible deal’.
He said in a statement: ‘The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote. While we do not want this to happen, the European Commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared.
‘I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible.
Donald Tusk hinted in a tweet that he thought Brexit could now be cancelled. ‘If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?’ he wrote.
How did your MP vote? 202 voted For and 432 Against in a historic – and devastating – Commons defeat for the Prime Minister
‘I became PM immediately after the referendum and I believe it’s my duty to deliver the result’: Theresa May’s response to her Brexit defeat in full
Mr Speaker, the House has spoken and the Government will listen. It is clear that the House does not support this deal. Tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support. Nothing about how or even if it intends to honour the decision the British people took in a referendum Parliament decided to hold.
People, particularly European Union citizens who made their home here and people from the UK living in the EU, deserve clarity on these questions as soon as possible.
Those whose jobs rely on trade with the EU need that clarity.
First, we need to confirm whether this Government still enjoys the confidence of the House. I believe it does but, given the scale and importance of tonight’s vote, it’s right others have the chance to test that question if they wish to do so.
I can therefore confirm that, if the Official Opposition table a confidence motion this evening in the form required for the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the Government will give time to debate that motion tomorrow. [Jeremy Corbyn later did so, with a vote to be held today.]
Second, if the House confirms confidence in this Government I will then hold meetings with my colleagues, our confidence-and-supply partner the DUP and senior Parliamentarians from across the House to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the House. The Government will approach these meetings in a constructive spirit, but given the urgent need to make progress, we must focus on ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this House.
If these meetings yield such ideas, the Government will then explore them with the European Union.
I want to end by offering two reassurances. First, to those who fear Government strategy is to run down the clock to 29 March: This is not our strategy. I have always believed the best way forward is to leave in an orderly way with a good deal and have devoted most of the last two years negotiating such a deal.
We respect the will of the House [on the Grieve amendment for a ‘Plan B’] and we will table an amendable motion on Monday.
My second reassurance is to British people who voted to leave the European Union in the referendum two-and-a-half years ago. I became PM immediately after the referendum and I believe it’s my duty to deliver on their instruction and I intend to do so.
Every day that passes without this issue being resolved means more uncertainty, more bitterness and more rancour.
The Government has heard what this House has said tonight but I ask members on all sides of the house to listen to the British people who want this issue settled. And to work with the Government to do just that.
Baffled by Brexit? Here’s everything you need to know about the plots, the votes and the deals (and what last night’s Commons showdown REALLY means)
MPs last night voted on Theresa May’s Brexit plan in what was set to be the most important decision taken by Parliament since the Second World War.
The PM suffered a catastrophic defeat in the crunch vote, with MPs seizing on her weakness to push their own plans for Britain’s future with the EU.
Politicians are deeply divided over whether Brexit should be soft or hard, and if the UK should go for a Norway-style deal or a Canada plus plan.
But the terms and arguments deployed by MPs are often steeped in jargon and bamboozling to the ordinary Brit.
Here are some of the things that will help you to finally understand the Brexit debate rocking Britain and its Parliament.
Theresa May (pictured in the Commons today) has struck a deal with the EU – but MPs are expected to vote it down by a massive majority today
1. Plan B – what is it and why do we need one?
Theresa May has struck a deal with the EU – but MPs voted it down by a massive majority last night, meaning she will have to come up with a Plan B.
And last week week MPs passed an amendment put forward by Tory Remainer Dominic Grieve which gives the PM just three working days to come up with her new plan.
It means she will be hauled back to the Commons on Monday to spell out what she will do next.
The PM has so far refused to say what her Plan B will be, but she will be under huge pressure to rule out a no deal Brexit and say what direction she plans to take the talks in next.
It is believed that Tory former ministers Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve (pictured) are also involved in the plot have launched a plot to try to take over Brexit talks
Remainers will want her to go for a Norway-style deal, which will keep the UK in the single market and therefore free movement, or a second referendum.
While Brexiteers will push for the PM to go for a Canada-style free deal which will take Britain fully out of the EU’s customs union and single market.
2. The Remainer plot – who is behind it and how would it work?
A group of Tory Remainers have launched a plot to try to take over Brexit talks if the PM cannot come up with a plan in three days.
Tory MP Nick Boles said that if this happens the Liaison Committee – a committee of 32 senior MPs which is dominated by Remainers – should take over the talks.
It is believed that Tory former ministers Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve are also involved in the plot.
This plan to sideline the Government would flout the rules of Parliament, but Commons Speaker John Bercow – who would have the final say on if this is possible or not – has made it clear he is happy to re-write the rules when it comes to Brexit.
No10 believe that if the plan succeeds then the MPs on the committee will push for a softer Brexit, for example to get a Norway-style deal which would keep the UK in the single market and therefore keeping free movement of people.
3. No deal – what would it mean for Britain and who opposes it?
Britain has been locked in talks with the EU to thrash out a Brexit deal, but if a new plan cannot be quickly agreed then the UK will crash out with no deal.
But many MPs have warned they will do whatever it takes to block a no deal – fearing this will send the UK’s economy into meltdown.
And a string of Cabinet ministers, including Greg Clark, Amber Rudd and David Gauke are expected to quit the Cabinet in fury if the PM then backs a no deal Brexit.
Economic experts have issued dire warnings about the fall-out of a no deal with the CBI saying it could slash 8 per cent off the size of the UK’s economy and plunging the country into a massive recession.
But there is a group of die-hard Brexiteers in the Tory Party, including Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the European Research Group, who say there is nothing to fear about a no deal Brexit.
This group sees going for a no deal Brexit as a step towards their goal of achieving a Canada plus style trade deal with the EU.
Jeremy Corbyn (pictured in the Commons today) is hoping to seize on the chaos if the PM’s deal is voted down today to table a no cinfidence motion and try to topple Mrs May from No10
4. No Confidence Vote – what is it and who would back it?
Jeremy Corbyn took up Theresa May’s challenge to table a motion of no confidence in the government in the aftermath of the vote on the withdrawal deal.
If the PM lost the vote, then another candidate has 14 working days to hold and win a vote of confidence of MPs – if they manage this then they become PM.
If no party leader can do this within the two weeks then another general election is called.
But it is unlikely that the Labour leader will be able to win the backing of a single MP from the ranks of the Tories or the DUP – meaning his bid to topple Mrs May is likely to fail.
5. General Election – how could one be called and who wants it?
Labour have been demanding an election, while many commentators believe that the Tories may end up having to call another election to break the political deadlock in Parliament.
Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, Mrs May would need the Commons to agree to hold another election – and many MPs will be dead-set against the plan which they fear would cost them their seats and could hand Mr Corbyn the keys to No10.
But if the PM’s deal is voted down and MPs cannot agree an alternative before the UK leaves on March 29 then an election may end up being called to bring in new MPs who may be able back a deal.
Many MPs are pushing for a second referendum to be held, less than three years after voters backed Brexit (file pic of voting booth)
6. Second referendum – why might we need one and what would the question be?
Many MPs are pushing for a second referendum to be held, less than three years after voters backed Brexit.
Remainers argue that with MPs unable to agree a deal among themselves then the only way forward is to send the question back to the public.
Many Labour MPs, the Lib Dems and a powerful group of Tory MPs all back a second referendum.
But Mrs May has repeatedly ruled out holding one while she is PM, and even backers of the plan are at loggerheads over what should be on the ballot paper.
Some Remainers believe voters should be offered a choice between the PM’s plan and remaining in the EU on current terms, but some others believe a no deal Brexit on world trade organisation terms should be offered.
7. Who is Gareth Johnson, the latest Tory to quit the government?
Tory MP Gareth Johnson quit as a whip whose job it is to convince his fellow Conservative MPs to back the PM’s plan – so he could oppose the deal.
He is the latest in a long line of Tory MPs who have resigned as aides and ministers to voice their objections to her blueprint.
The MP for Dartford has a strongly Leave-supporting seat, and he was appointed an assistant whip, one of the most junior ranks, in November last year.
Sources said he had been ‘desperate’ to get into government, but pointed out that his voters were overwhelmingly Brexit-backing.
Resigning today, he said he was putting his ‘loyalty to the country above loyalty to the government’.