Theresa May’s government has ‘bottled it completely’ over Brexit according to Boris Johnson as she clings to power after holding crisis talks with her Brexit critics at Chequers yesterday.
During a three-hour meeting, Brexiteers Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg warned the Prime Minister she must set out a timetable for her departure to get her deal through the Commons.
Mrs May dug in, warning Eurosceptics including Mr Johnson and David Davis that if they refused to get behind her plan, MPs would force through a ‘soft’ Brexit.
But Mr Johnson, writing in The Telegraph, said the government had a ‘chickened out’ and ‘bottled it completely’ over Brexit.
Boris Johnson arrives at Chequers for a meeting with the Prime Minister. He wrote that the government has ‘bottled it completely’ over Brexit
Theresa May has warned Eurosceptics including Boris Johnson and David Davis that if they refused to get behind her plan, MPs would force through a ‘soft’ Brexit
He said: ‘We are not leaving this Friday because the government has chickened out. For almost three years every Tory MP has chirruped the mantra that no deal would be better than a bad deal.
‘I believed that the government was sincere in making that claim, and I believed that the PM genuinely had the 29th of March inscribed in her heart.
‘I am afraid I misread the government. We have blinked. We have baulked. We have bottled it completely.’
He urges Mrs May to ‘channel the spirit of Moses’ and ‘tell Brussels’ to ‘let my people go.’
The meeting came hours after her de facto deputy David Lidington and Environment Secretary Michael Gove (pictured) were forced to deny claims that ministers planned to install one of them as a caretaker prime minister in a Cabinet coup
The Prime Minister is understood to have raised concerns privately that she does not want to set out a departure date unless it becomes clear that doing so will be enough to get her deal passed.
A source said: ‘It’s a bit of chicken and egg. She does not want to come out and say ‘OK I will do it’ and then it not go through. She needs to know the numbers are there.’
But Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson, writing on Twitter last night, has claimed there are rumours abound that Brexiteers at Chequers have got the PM’s agreement to resign in return for their support for her deal.
Calls for a public inquiry
A public inquiry could be held into Brexit, it has emerged.
Civil servants, MPs, peers and business figures want a probe into the initial decision to call a referendum, the red lines drawn up by Theresa May and Britain’s negotiating strategy.
Former civil service head Bob Kerslake called Brexit ‘the biggest humiliation since Suez’. The cross-party peer added: ‘We do need to understand how on Earth we ended up where we have and it probably needs to go back to the decisions around holding a referendum and the way the question was framed.’
A senior Tory peer cited the inquiry into the Iraq war led by Sir John Chilcot, saying: ‘We want our Chilcot.’
The meeting came hours after her de facto deputy David Lidington and Environment Secretary Michael Gove were forced to deny claims that ministers planned to install one of them as a caretaker prime minister in a Cabinet coup.
Yesterday afternoon Mrs May invited the pair to her country residence along with a group including former ministers and some of her staunchest Brexit critics.
She convened the meeting to discuss whether there was enough support from MPs to put her Withdrawal Agreement before the Commons for a third time this week.
Those present included former Brexit ministers Steve Baker and Dominic Raab, who both quit over her deal. Chief Whip Julian Smith, Tory chairman Brandon Lewis, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt and Mrs May’s former deputy Damian Green also attended, along with Jacob Rees-Mogg, who brought his son, Peter, 12.
The Brexiteers present said there was no breakthrough at the meeting. A source added: ‘It was the usual stuff, she gave the same old pitch as she has been giving about back me or it is going to be a softer Brexit.
‘IDS and Jacob both said she should set out a timeline to go, but she gave no indication that she would. It was the same old lines. Sadly nothing has changed.’
The Brexiteers are said to have ‘left disheartened by the lack of any effort to change course or to reach out in any way to try and get this deal through’.
A diagram showing what could happen after the third meaningful vote
On his way to the meeting, Mr Johnson drove on a public road without his seatbelt on – an offence that can incur a £500 fine.
Philip Hammond says MPs should discuss second referendum ‘proposition’ next week
Philip Hammond said Mrs May’s Brexit deal was his ‘preferred way forward’ but admitted: ‘I’m realistic that we may not be able to get a majority’
Philip Hammond has said a second EU referendum is a ‘perfectly coherent proposition’ as he urged MPs to decide on a ‘compromise’ Brexit deal if they cannot back Theresa May.
The Chancellor said that ‘one way or another’ Parliament would this week be able to show what it wanted from Brexit, rather than constantly showing what it does not want.
Mr Hammond told Sky’s Ridge on Sunday that Mrs May’s Brexit deal – already defeated twice by MPs – was his ‘preferred way forward’ but admitted: ‘I’m realistic that we may not be able to get a majority’.
‘One way or another Parliament is going to have the opportunity this week to decide what it is in favour of, and I hope that it will take that opportunity – if it can’t get behind the Prime Minister’s deal – to say clearly and unambiguously what it can get behind,’ he added.
But he warned that any alternative deal must be ‘a variant that is deliverable, not some unicorn’.
The Chancellor said Parliament would be given the chance to hold indicative votes on alternatives to Mrs May’s Brexit deal this week.
Tomorrow Parliament debates an amendable Government motion on the Brexit deal, which gives MPs a chance to put their favoured outcomes to a vote.
And the day after an estimated one million people marched through London demanding a second referendum, Mr Hammond added: ‘I’m not sure that there’s a majority in Parliament for a second referendum but it’s a perfectly coherent proposition.
‘Many people will be strongly opposed to it, but it’s a coherent proposition and it deserves to be considered along with the other proposals.’
A witness said the former Foreign Secretary was not wearing it while on Missenden Road, which leads to Chequers in Buckinghamshire.
Yesterday, it was claimed that ministers planned to call on Mrs May to step aside in favour of a caretaker prime minister – either Mr Lidington or Mr Gove – at a Cabinet meeting this morning.
But the mooted coup appeared to have fizzled out last night after critics warned that both Tory MPs and the party’s membership would not accept the Cabinet picking a leader without a contest.
One minister said: ‘It couldn’t work because it is insane. The voluntary party would not live with it. The idea that you could get Cabinet to unite around one candidate would be surprising and the idea that you could get the parliamentary party to rally behind one person is insane. It will not happen.’
Mr Gove and Mr Lidington appeared on television yesterday to restate their backing for the Prime Minister ahead of the Chequers meeting.
The Environment Secretary said it was ‘not the time to change the captain of the ship’, adding: ‘We absolutely need to focus on making sure we get the maximum possible support for the Prime Minister and her deal.’
Mr Lidington said Mrs May was doing ‘a fantastic job’, adding: ‘I don’t think I’ve any wish to take over from the PM. One thing working closely with the Prime Minister does is cure you of any shred of ambition to want to do that task. I have absolute admiration for the way she is going about it.’
Yesterday, Chancellor Philip Hammond warned those urging Mrs May to go that it wouldn’t ‘solve the problem’. ‘To be talking about changing the players on the board, frankly, is self-indulgent at this time,’ he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday.
It came after Tory MP George Freeman, who had called for Mrs May to be replaced by Mr Gove, said yesterday it was ‘all over for the PM’, tweeting: ‘She’s done her best. But across the country you can see the anger.’
He was rebuked by Tory minister Justin Tomlinson, who replied: ‘You should get off Twitter and knock on doors. The public are frustrated at factions who refuse to compromise. They sympathise that the PM is stuck in the middle.’
Eurosceptics on the backbenches also warned they would resist any move to put someone in place without them having a say.
Tory MP Charlie Elphicke said: ‘The idea of a Cabinet coup is appalling. If there is to be a leadership change it must be done by MPs and the membership in accordance with the rules – not by a Cabinet stitch-up.’