Writing in The Scotsman, Nicola Sturgeon said the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson made it more likely the UK would stay in the EU single market and customs union, but refused to lend the SNP’s support to Mrs May’s proposed Brexit deal.
It came as pro-EU Labour MPs dashed the hopes of Conservative moderates that they could rebel against Jeremy Corbyn to save the Prime Minister’s plan for a limited customs union on industrial and agricultural goods.
Meanwhile, Brexiteers kept piling up the pressure on Mrs May.
MPs Ben Bradley and Maria Caulfield resigned from their posts as deputy chairs of the Conservative Party in protest at a Brexit strategy that Mr Bradley claimed was “handing Jeremy Corbyn the keys to Number 10”.
The Prime Minister also faced embarrassment just days before Donald Trump begins a visit to the UK when the US president said he would like to meet with his “friend” Mr Johnson.
Speaking to journalists before departing for what promises to be a tumultuous summit of the Nato alliance in Brussels, Mr Trump said: “I have Nato, I have the UK – that’s a situation with turmoil,” adding his meeting with the Russian president “may be the easiest of all”. Asked whether he wanted Mrs May to stay in Downing Street, the president said: “I get along with her very well ... that’s certainly up to the people, not up to me.”
Yesterday the First Minister said SNP MPs wouldn’t vote for the Prime Minister’s Brexit plans and called Mrs May to back full membership of the single market and customs union.
And in an article for The Scotsman today, Ms Sturgeon writes: “After the Davis and Johnson resignations, it is highly questionable whether there is a majority for the Chequers plan as it stands.”
She adds: “There is now a chance, I believe, that the events of this week will help pave the way for the least damaging Brexit. That was not the intention of David Davis or Boris Johnson in resigning, but it may yet be their legacy.”
With the dozens of Conservative Brexiteers potentially ready to reject a deal with Brussels based on Mrs May’s plans, moderate figures in the party have appealed for support to the scores of Labour MPs who have previously rebelled against Mr Corbyn to vote in favour of a soft Brexit.
However, those appeals were rejected by one of the leading pro-EU figures on the Labour benches, Wes Streeting, who said the Chequers deal was “dead”. He tweeted the Prime Minister “doesn’t have a majority for it and there’s no reason why we’d vote for a hard Brexit for services”.
Challenged directly by the Scottish Tory MP Paul Masterton over whether he would “seriously walk through the lobbies with a handful of hard-line Eurosceptic Tories, vote down the deal and cause us to crash out without any deal at all”, Mr Streeting replied: “The Labour Party will be constructive, but this isn’t good enough.”
The Prime Minister was given a small boost by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, who said he was looking forward to “constructive discussion” based on Mrs May’s plan.
In his first public remarks since the start of the latest crisis, Michel Barnier said: “No deal is the worst solution for everybody. It would be a huge economic problem for the UK and also for the EU. I’m not working for that deal. I’m working for a deal.”
However, Mr Barnier warned: “It will be clear, crystal clear at the end of this negotiation that the best situation, the best relationship with the EU, will be to remain a member.”