Brussels opened the door to the UK staying in the EU for another two years as MPs gave their approval for Brexit to be delayed last night.
It comes after MPs last night rejected a No Deal Brexit 321 to 278 votes. Theresa May is now expected to make a third attempt to get her deal
through Parliament in the next week.
EU leaders signalled they were willing to accept a delay of up to 21 months if MPs refuse to pass a deal in the next week. European Council president Donald Tusk said the UK would be given time to “rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it”.
Downing Street insisted Mrs May’s ministers supported her policy, which is now to seek a delay to Brexit up to 30 June if a deal is agreed at the third attempt.
But there were reports of a huge row in Cabinet when it met yesterday afternoon, with the Prime Minister demanding an end to leaks and berating pro-Remain ministers for ‘posturing’ by not voting with the government. Chief Whip Julian Smith was said to have walked out after being criticised over his management of votes.
On Wednesday, four Cabinet ministers, including Scottish Secretary David Mundell, and eight other ministers abstained on a vote to rule out a no-deal Brexit, in defiance of a three-line whip to vote against the motion.
They were not disciplined amid claims the Prime Minister’s parliamentary private secretary (PPS), the Aberdeenshire MP Andrew Bowie, told the ministers they would not lose their jobs.
East Renfrewshire MP Paul Masterton announced he had resigned as PPS to the Home Secretary to vote for Wednesday’s motion ruling out no-deal.
A Downing Street spokesman said the exchange at Cabinet was “productive, open and honest”, but health secretary Matt Hancock later said it would be a “disaster” to delay Brexit by two years. “I think people want to get on with this,” he said.
Some 188 Conservative MPs – more than half the parliamentary party – voted against the motion to delay Brexit in a free vote. Brexit secretary Steven Barclay, who closed yesterday’s debate and formally moved the motion, then voted against it. Also voting against were Cabinet ministers Alun Cairns, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling, Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt, Liz Truss and Gavin Williamson.
The focus now turns to a third attempt to pass Mrs May’s deal next week, with the government making furious attempts to win over the DUP and Brexiteer Tories.
An amendment seeking to seize control of the parliamentary timetable from the government and hold ‘indicative votes’ on Brexit alternatives next was defeated by just two votes last night. The result will heap pressure on Brexiteers in the DUP and European Research Group (ERG) to back the Prime Minister, in case Remainers make another attempt to force through a second EU referendum.
Last night DUP leader Arlene Foster said fresh talks were being held with ministers. “We are talking to the government and to the Attorney General at the moment to try and make a deal happen because we want to see Brexit working, we want to see it working for the whole of the UK in a way that doesn’t leave Northern Ireland behind,” she said.
If the deal is passed, the Prime Minister will go to Brussels next Thursday to request a short extension to Article 50 to allow time for essential Brexit legislation to be passed.
If her deal is rejected for a third time, Mrs May has warned a much longer extension will be needed, with the UK likely being forced to take part in European Parliament elections in May.
Cabinet Office minister David Lidington told MPs that if they reject the deal again, two weeks of debate will take place following the EU summit to try to establish a majority around a different plan.
An amendment on a second EU referendum put forward by the Independent Group was heavily defeated after Labour said it would abstain and the official People’s Vote campaign put out a statement saying: “We do not think today is the right time to test the will of the House on the case for a new public vote.”
SNP deputy Westminster leader Kirsty Blackman said Labour and Tory MPs who voted against a second EU referendum had “proven they cannot be trusted to stand up for Scotland”.
Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray joined Scottish colleagues Ged Killen and Martin Whitfield in a rebellion of 25 Labour members who voted for a second EU referendum.
Mr Murray said: “While I accept that this particular amendment did not truly test the will of the Commons for a People’s Vote, it remains disappointing that Labour MPs were instructed to abstain on this vital issue.”