May will ‘destroy’ the Tory party if she caves in to soft Brexit demands

Theresa May would 'destroy' the Tory party and put Jeremy Corbyn in No 10 if she gives in to demands to adopt a soft Brexit, senior ministers warned last night.

MPs are staging a vote tonight on whether to try to force the Prime Minister to shift to a customs union or Norway-style soft Brexit.

No10 is braced for a possible Cabinet walkout as early as tomorrow when ministers debate whether to accept Parliament's demands.

If she were to give way to a softer Brexit, Mrs May would provoke a furious reaction from Brexiteers, with International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling among the ministers reportedly ready to resign. 

More than 170 Tory MPs, including ten Cabinet ministers, have already signed a blunt, two-paragraph letter to Mrs May reminding her of the party's manifesto commitment to take Britain out of both the customs union and the single market. 

The letter urges her to take the UK out of the EU without a deal on April 12 if she cannot get her own deal through Parliament in the coming days.

Today Chief Secretary to the Treasury warned the PM against lurching towards a customs union deal because 'it's not clear that going softer is the way to command support' - but ruled out quitting. 

She added: 'I don’t have any fear of No Deal - what would be worse is if we don’t Brexit at all. I think the answer lies in modifications to the Prime Minister's deal to be able to get that to have support'.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said today: 'One thing is clear: We have to leave the European Union in good order. Parliament won't vote for No Deal. No Deal is bad for our economy and bad for our union'.

Theresa May outside church in her constituency yesterday

Boris Johnson cycles in south London the day after Prime Minister Theresa May was defeated for a third time on the Withdrawal Agreement in Parliament

Theresa May (left) has been warned she will 'destroy' the Tory party if she caves in to calls for a soft Brexit while Boris Johnson (right) urged Conservative MPs to 'get brexit done'

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove leaves his home for a morning jog as MPs prepare to grab control of Brexit

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove leaves his home for a morning jog as MPs prepare to grab control of Brexit

And last night, two Cabinet ministers told the Daily Mail that shifting to a soft Brexit could lead to a collapse of the Government and usher in a Labour regime led by Mr Corbyn.

Timetable for four days of Westminster turmoil 

Today: MPs led by Tory Sir Oliver Letwin and Labour's Yvette Cooper will vote tonight on whether to adopt a soft Brexit option, such as a customs union or membership of the single market, possibly accompanied by a second referendum. Last week, MPs rejected all eight Brexit options put to them in a series of 'indicative votes', but supporters of a soft Brexit from both the Tory and Labour benches believe they have a better chance tonight following the third defeat for Theresa May's deal.

Tomorrow: The Cabinet will meet to discuss a response to the votes. If MPs have backed a customs union, Mrs May will have to decide whether to accept a policy opposed by the vast majority of Tory MPs. If she agrees, the issue could tear the party apart. If she refuses, it would result in a constitutional stand-off that could spark an election. Downing Street fears that she could face a Cabinet walkout regardless of what she decides.

Wednesday: Sir Oliver Letwin has indicated he will try to seize control of the Commons agenda again to pursue his soft Brexit plan. If Monday's votes were inconclusive, they could be held again, possibly using preferential voting to reduce the options to one. If Monday night's vote produced a solution, but Mrs May refused to adopt it, Parliament could legislate in a bid to force her hand.

Thursday: Allies of the PM have the day pencilled in for a possible fourth attempt to get her deal through the Commons. They believe that, with the majority against her coming down from 230 to 149 then to 58 last week, they have momentum on their side. Ministers are considering an unprecedented parliamentary 'run off' pitting Mrs May's deal against the soft Brexit option chosen by MPs in the hope of focusing the minds of Tory eurosceptics. 

 

One said: 'If forced to choose I would favour a general election over a customs union, but it's like a choice between being stabbed in the left hand and stabbed in the right. Either one could take us to a Corbyn government.

'The Conservative Party cannot accept a customs union, and at least half the Cabinet won't accept it. It would destroy the party and it would lead to an election anyway, which we would then lose.

'The only route we can possibly survive is to go for No Deal. At least we would then enter an election in the right political place, having delivered Brexit.'

Another Cabinet minister said: 'We cannot go for a customs union – there would be no government left. And if we go for an election then Corbyn will be likely to win and we would end up with a customs union anyway.'

Justice Secretary David Gauke infuriated Eurosceptic MPs yesterday when he declared that Mrs May would have to 'look closely' at adopting a customs union if Parliament votes for it.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson urged the Tories to 'believe in Britain' and 'get Brexit done'. 

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: 'We should really come out with no deal – now looking by far the best option.

'But if we cannot achieve that, then we need to get out, now, with an interim solution that most closely resembles what the people voted for, in the knowledge that – following the Prime Minister's decision to step down – we have at least the chance to fix it in the second phase of the negotiations.' 

Mr Gauke and fellow Remainers Greg Clark, Amber Rudd, Philip Hammond and David Lidington are urging Mrs May to push for a softer Brexit if it avoids No Deal.

Last night, members of the group were privately encouraging Remainer Tories to back the option in tonight's vote.

But Downing Street slapped down Mr Gauke, saying Mrs May was committed to delivering a Brexit deal 'which does not include membership of the custom union'. However, a pro-Remain Cabinet source said Mrs May would have to accept the will of Parliament, adding: 'Something is going to have to give this week – she is finally going to have to pick a side, and that is going to leave one half of the Cabinet very unhappy. But if the majority in Parliament comes out for a customs union then that will be very hard to resist.'

The eight Brexit alternatives that MPs will vote on tonight 

These are the results of last week's indicative votes on Brexit, in order of preference. It shows that while MPs can't find a consensus they lean heavily towards a softer Brexit or second referendum

These are the results of last week's indicative votes on Brexit, in order of preference. It shows that while MPs can't find a consensus they lean heavily towards a softer Brexit or second referendum 

MPs are expected to take part in the second stage of the Brexit indicative vote process on Monday.

None of the eight alternatives to Prime Minister Theresa May's deal were approved last week after Parliament seized control of the Commons agenda.

Many of the ideas have returned for a second attempt, with Speaker John Bercow the person responsible for selecting which ones can be put to a vote.

- Motion A: Unilateral right of exit from the backstop.

Tory backbenchers, led by John Baron, want the UK to leave the EU on May 22 2019 with the Withdrawal Agreement amended to allow the UK unilaterally to exit the controversial Northern Ireland backstop.

- Motion B: No deal in the absence of a Withdrawal Agreement.

Another proposal from Mr Baron, which calls for a no-deal Brexit on April 12 if no Withdrawal Agreement can be agreed by the Commons.

- Motion C: Customs union.

Tory former chancellor Ken Clarke's customs union plan requires any Brexit deal to include, as a minimum, a commitment to negotiate a "permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU".

This was defeated by the smallest margin in the first round, falling just six votes short.

- Motion D: Common market 2.0.

Tabled by Conservatives Nick Boles, Robert Halfon and Dame Caroline Spelman and Labour's Stephen Kinnock, Lucy Powell plus the SNP's Stewart Hosie.

The motion proposes UK membership of the European Free Trade Association and European Economic Area. It allows continued participation in the single market and a "comprehensive customs arrangement" with the EU after Brexit - including a "UK say" on future EU trade deals - would remain in place until the agreement of a wider trade deal which guarantees frictionless movement of goods and an open border in Ireland.

- Motion E: Confirmatory public vote.

It has been drawn up by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson. This motion would require a public vote to confirm any Brexit deal passed by Parliament before its ratification. This option, tabled last time by Labour former minister Dame Margaret Beckett, polled the highest number of votes although was defeated by 295 votes to 268.

- Motion F: Public vote to prevent no deal.

Moved by Labour's Graham Jones and Tory former minister Dominic Grieve, this proposal would require a referendum, if necessary, to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

Motion G: Parliamentary supremacy.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry joins with Mr Grieve and MPs from other parties with this plan to seek an extension to the Brexit process, and if this is not possible then Parliament will choose between either no-deal or revoking Article 50.

An inquiry would follow to assess the future relationship likely to be acceptable to Brussels and have majority support in the UK.

Motion H: Efta and EEA.

A motion tabled by Conservative MP George Eustice - who quit as agriculture minister to fight for Brexit - proposes rejoining the European Free Trade Association (Efta) at the "earliest opportunity", agree a short extension to the UK's membership of the EU to conclude accession to Efta and negotiate with the EU additional protocols relating to the Northern Ireland border and agri-food trade.

Ahead of another dramatic week:

Government sources said Mrs May would try to bring her deal back to the Commons for a fourth time this week, despite hopes fading that the DUP will ever support it. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said: 'We have had a lot of patience with our British friends over Brexit but patience runs out.' Former Tory prime minister Sir John Major called for a 'government of national unity' to push through a soft Brexit or second referendum. Tory deputy chairman James Cleverly warned that Mrs May could lead the party into a snap general election if the Brexit deadlock continues, despite opposition from Tory MPs and a poll putting Labour five points ahead. Work and Pensions Secretary Mrs Rudd set up a new group of moderate Tories designed to block hard Brexiteers such as Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson succeeding Mrs May as PM. Labour shifted decisively behind a second referendum, with Tom Watson saying it was 'inconceivable' the party would not back the idea and Emily Thornberry declaring: 'In my heart I want to stay.' Former Middle East minister Alistair Burt said the Brexit deadlock was putting the UK 'in peril', adding: 'I've spent enough time in conflict areas over the last few years to know how fragile peace and security is.' Whitehall sources said Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill had convinced Mrs May to drop the idea of leaving the EU without a deal after warning her it would lead to the break-up of the UK.

Parliament will hold a second round of 'indicative votes' tonight in a process led by Tory grandee Sir Oliver Letwin designed to identify a soft Brexit alternative to Mrs May's deal.

A customs union option was narrowly defeated last week and last night there were indications that Mr Corbyn could order his MPs to back a super-soft 'Common Market 2.0' option, which would keep the UK in the single market and make it impossible to end free movement.

Privately, some allies of Mrs May believe Sir Oliver could do her a favour by crystallising the choice for Eurosceptic MPs into a risk that her deal might lead to a customs union against the certainty of being locked in one.   

Mr Gauke said Mrs May (pictured yesterday at church in Maidenhead) must consider tearing up the Tory party manifesto to get an orderly Brexit through Parliament if necessary

Mr Gauke said Mrs May (pictured yesterday at church in Maidenhead) must consider tearing up the Tory party manifesto to get an orderly Brexit through Parliament if necessary

Theresa May's Commons enforcer has criticised the Government's approach to leaving the EU and said his party should have made it clear a 'softer Brexit' was 'inevitable' after the 2017 election.

In an extraordinary interview Julian Smith, the Tory chief whip, also and attacked Cabinet members over the 'worst example of ill-discipline in British political history'.

He said ministers have been 'sitting around the Cabinet table trying to destabilise her (Mrs May)', revealing the battle the Prime Minister has with both Brexiteer and remainers in her Cabinet.

It came as MPs are set to take back control of the Brexit agenda in a fresh attempt to find an alternative to Theresa May's deal that Parliament can support.

The Commons will stage a second round of 'indicative' votes on Monday on a series of rival proposals tabled by backbenchers to see if any can command a majority.

The move comes as Mrs May struggles to contain the rising tensions with her Cabinet as the clock counts down to the latest EU deadline on April 12.

If she were to give way to a softer Brexit, she would provoke a furious reaction from Brexiteers, with International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling among the ministers reportedly ready to resign.  

Julian Smith, the Tory chief whip,  has said Theresa May's government should have said that a softer Brexit was inevitable after it lost its majority in a 2017 election

Julian Smith, the Tory chief whip,  has said Theresa May's government should have said that a softer Brexit was inevitable after it lost its majority in a 2017 election

Mr Smith spoke out to suggest ministers had pursued the wrong strategy after the Prime Minister lost the Conservatives' Commons majority in the 2017 snap election.

He said the result of the poll meant that Mrs May simply did not have enough MPs to back a harder version of Brexit.

The comments were published by the BBC amid speculation that Parliament may force the PM to seek membership of a customs union with Brussels in order to pass her deal, which would mean ripping up one of her key red lines.

'The thing that people forget is that the Conservative Party went to get a majority in order to deliver Brexit (and) failed to get a majority,' the chief whip said.

'The Government as a whole probably should just have been clearer on the consequences of that. The parliamentary arithmetic would mean that this would be inevitably a softer type of Brexit.'

While the strategy was apparently misjudged, Mr Smith said he was 'frustrated' by MPs who 'don't see the light as clearly as I do'.

Mrs May's deal has now fallen three times in the Commons, with Tory MPs among those who voted against it on each occasion.

However Mr Smith highlighted that a lack of discipline extended all the way to the Cabinet, with ministers 'sitting around the Cabinet table ... trying to destabilise her (Mrs May)'.

'This is I think the worst example of ill-discipline in Cabinet in British political history,' he said.

MPs will launch a fresh attempt to force Theresa May into a soft Brexit tonight by holding votes on alternatives to her deal.

Ministers believe as many as 70 Tory MPs could back a proposal to remain in the EU customs union, which could lead to it winning over a majority of MPs.

Justice Secretary David Gauke (pictured) infuriated Eurosceptic MPs when he declared that Mrs May would have to 'look closely' at adopting a customs union if Parliament votes for it

Justice Secretary David Gauke (pictured) infuriated Eurosceptic MPs when he declared that Mrs May would have to 'look closely' at adopting a customs union if Parliament votes for it

Backbenchers led by Sir Oliver Letwin have taken control of the Commons timetable to stage a second round of indicative votes after none of

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