MPs vote on soft Brexit and referendum as May makes last appeal

Theresa May will go before her MPs tomorrow night in a desperate final bid to save her deal with Brussels at the same time as Parliament votes on plans to impose a softer Brexit.

The Prime Minister will face the backbench 1922 Committee to appeal for loyalty as hardcore Brexiteers said they would not waver in opposing her deal.

But it will be too late to stop MPs starting the process of ‘indicative votes’ this evening on alternative options for Brexit, which are set to include remaining in the single market and customs union, as well as putting the deal to the people in a second referendum, or cancelling the UK’s exit altogether.

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In a historic vote on Monday night, MPs dealt a crushing blow to the government’s authority by voting to take control of the Commons order paper and the Brexit process, by 329 votes to 302.

Anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray waits for members of the media to start their live broadcasting outside the Houses of Parliament. Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Mrs May’s one-time allies in the DUP also turned their backs on her today, saying they would not be bullied into backing a “toxic” Brexit deal. After losing three more ministers on Monday night, Mrs May is braced for further Commons revolts, with members of her Cabinet demanding free votes on the various Brexit options set to be presented.

No decision has yet been made on whether the indicative votes will be whipped, with a Downing Street spokesman refusing to comment on discussions among ministers on the issue at a two-hour Cabinet meeting today. MPs will be asked to select which alternative Brexit options they support, with a ‘run-off’ ballot for the most popular proposals to be held on Monday.

With dozens of Tory Brexiteers still refusing to back the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, tomorrow night’s meeting of the 1922 Committee is expected to hear calls for Mrs May to stand down before the next phase of talks. The
Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was “extremely unlikely” the deal would be put to MPs tomorrow, but a vote must be held this week to meet the terms set by the EU for the extension of Article 50 to 22 May.

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said the Prime Minister was having ongoing discussions “so that we can, if possible this week, approve the deal and guarantee Brexit”.

At Cabinet, environment secretary Michael Gove is reported to have called for a third vote on the deal to be held on Friday 29 March – the day the UK was originally intended to leave the EU – using symbolism in a bid to attract Brexiteers. Some critics of the government’s deal have switched their positions, facing the risk of a possible second EU referendum or the revocation of Article 50.

They include the chairman of the influential European Research Group, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who admitted “the choice seems to be Mrs May’s deal or no Brexit”.

“I have always thought that no deal is better than Mrs May’s deal, but Mrs May’s deal is better than not leaving at all,” Mr Rees-Mogg told a ConservativeHome podcast. He added that Brexit may now be a “process rather than an event” and it could take time to fully break away from Brussels.

Former whip Michael Fabricant said he had reached the same “dreadful conclusion” on Mrs May’s deal and a new prime minister would be able to negotiate a “better and more distanced relationship” with the EU after Brexit.

Boris Johnson hinted that he could be about to shift his position if a different Prime Minister took Brexit talks in a new direction.

He told a public meeting “I am not there yet”, but offering to support the deal if it leads to a Canada-style trade deal between the UK and the EU.

But there is little hope of Mrs May’s deal passing while it continues to be opposed by the DUP.

The party’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said he would prefer to see the UK forced into a longer Brexit delay, potentially until the end of the year, rather than vote for the Prime Minister’s “rotten deal”.

“Even if we are forced into a one-year extension, we at least would have a say on the things which affect us during that time and would have the right to unilaterally decide to leave at the end of that one-year period through the simple decision of not applying for a further extension,” Mr Wilson wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

He added: “There are some colleagues who I admire greatly and who have stood firmly with us in defending Northern Ireland who now take the view that the Withdrawal Agreement, even though it is a rotten deal, is better than losing Brexit.

“To them I say that, if the deal goes through, we have lost our right to leave the EU.”

SNP MP Joanna Cherry has submitted a motion calling for Article 50 to be revoked if a no-deal Brexit is looming.

The motion would require the government to hold a debate and vote two days before the UK’s exit date if a deal hasn’t been agreed. If MPs refuse to authorise no-deal, the Prime Minister would be required to halt Brexit by revoking Article 50.

The motion has been signed by 33 MPs including Conservative former attorney general Dominic Grieve, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable and all 11 members of The Independent Group.

Other proposals submitted by MPs include the so-called Kyle-Wilson compromise, which would put any Brexit deal to a public vote. Conservative MP Nick Boles has put forward a proposal for the UK to join the European Free Trade Association.