Theresa May will allow MPs a free vote on whether to pursue No Deal next week if her own proposals are defeated, two of her allies claim
- Said prime minister accepted whipping vote would cause wave of resignations
- Ministers are preparing for defeat on second vote for May’s deal on Tuesday
- Other sources said PM believes there is still hope of last-minute turnaround
Theresa May will allow MPs a free vote on whether to pursue No Deal next week if her own proposals are defeated, two of her allies said last night.
They said she accepted it would be impossible to whip a vote on No Deal without causing a destabilising wave of resignations that could bring down her fragile government.
‘Whichever way you whipped it, it would split the party,’ one said. ‘A free vote is inevitable.’
Chancellor Philip Hammond also hinted at the move yesterday. Asked if he would resign if he was ordered to vote for No Deal, he said: ‘That is something I don’t think will happen.’
Theresa May (pictured in Downing Street) will allow MPs a free vote on whether to pursue No Deal next week if her own proposals are defeated, two of her allies said last night
With Brussels still stalling on negotiations and Eurosceptic opinion hardening again, ministers are braced for potential defeat when MPs vote on Mrs May’s deal a second time on Tuesday.
But sources insist the PM believes there is still hope of a last-minute turnaround – provided the EU gives ground on the controversial Irish backstop.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay are on standby to return to Brussels as early as today if officials indicate there is the prospect of a breakthrough.
Mrs May is also ready to fly to Brussels for talks with EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, which could take place on Monday morning, barely 24 hours before the vote.
In a speech in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, today she will warn Brussels that it will bear responsibility if the talks collapse, saying the EU’s decisions over the next 72 hours will have ‘a big impact on the outcome of the vote’.
She is expected to add: ‘Just as MPs will face a big choice next week, the EU has to make a choice, too.
‘We are both participants in this process. It is in the European interest for the UK to leave with a deal.
‘We are working with them but the decisions the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote.’ She will also warn Eurosceptic MPs they risk having Brexit watered down beyond recognition – or losing it altogether – if they vote down her deal.
The Government lost the first ‘meaningful vote’ on Mrs May’s deal in January by a record 230 votes.
The prospect of Brexit being delayed or blocked left some Eurosceptic MPs suggesting they could be persuaded to back the deal the second time around.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, pictured, could return to Brussels as early as today if officials indicate there is the prospect of a breakthrough
Some Labour MPs have also suggested that they could vote for it following concessions by Mrs May on protections for workers’ rights after Brexit and a £1.6billion fund for towns in the North that have been ‘left behind’.
But senior Tories admit that opposition to the deal has hardened, and fear it is set for a second heavy defeat unless there is a breakthrough in Brussels.
If it is defeated, Mrs May has promised to hold votes in the following days on whether to pursue No Deal on March 29 or ask the EU to delay Brexit.
Allowing Tory MPs to vote against Government policy on the two issues will embarrass the Prime Minister and anger Eurosceptic MPs. But allies believe it will be less damaging than resignations caused by trying to order MPs to vote for or against No Deal.
Cabinet ministers, including Mr Hammond, Justice Secretary David Gauke and Business Secretary Greg Clark, are also urging the PM to then hold ‘indicative votes’ on softer Brexit options, such as a customs union or a Norway-style deal, to find a consensus.
A cross-party group of MPs has already warned it will try to seize control of Brexit if the Prime Minister’s deal is defeated. Former Tory minister Sir Oliver Letwin said MPs would try to hold indicative votes on March 19 in the hope of finding a consensus.
Mr Hammond warned pro-Brexit MPs they risked a softer Brexit if they joined forces with Labour to defeat Mrs May’s deal. He said: ‘If the deal does not get approved, it is likely the Commons will vote to extend Article 50, to not leave the EU without a deal. Where we go thereafter is highly uncertain.’