Former minister Nick Boles has declared he would leave the Conservative Party if a no-deal Brexit became Theresa May’s policy in yet another fractious day in Westminster.
The senior MP, who has been championing a Norway-style soft Brexit, declared he would resign the Tory whip and vote “in any way necessary” to block the UK leaving the EU without a deal.
The prime minister chaired a meeting of the cabinet on Tuesday morning when ministers agreed to trigger every aspect of emergency contingency planning, worth £2bn of public money.
While there is no majority for a no-deal Brexit in parliament and despite the PM’s deal facing defeat in the Commons in January, May has refused to rule out Britain falling into World Trade Organisation rules in March.
The government’s own analysis found that no-deal could hit the economy by a staggering 9.3% over 15 years, while the immediate aftermath of exit would spell chaos at the borders and in British airspace.
Pro-EU Tory MP Anna Soubry tweeted that she would join Boles and reject “party allegiance” to vote no-deal down.
She later told the Commons, as part of a debate on Brexit, that “deeply irresponsible” ministers were playing the “ultimate game of brinkmanship” by ramping up plans to crash out.
In another sign of the deep divisions within Westminster, Labour MP Geraint Davies told the Commons the UK was “walking slowly along the road to fascism” because of Brexit.
He added Brexit was a “betrayal of socialism” and went on to make an impassioned case for a second referendum.
He said the anger felt by people if a second Brexit referendum was called would pale into significance compared to a UK made poorer by EU withdrawal in the wake of a decade of austerity.
“They will be poorer again and they won’t be angry, they will be massively enraged,” he said. “And we are walking slowly along the road to fascism – that’s what will happen in this country.”
Former education secretary Justine Greening, meanwhile, called for MPs to step up and work through Christmas to tackle the crisis.
She warned of a “sense of drift” as fears mount that the PM is bidding to run down the clock so MPs are left with little choice but to back her withdrawal plans.
“People simply won’t understand why this place is packing up and having a two-week holiday when we face the biggest constitutional crisis that this country has had in decades, it is simply wrong, the government has to recognise this,” she said.
With the DUP fiercely opposed to the Northern Irish backstop clause and May unable to win any concessions from Brussels, parliament remains deadlocked over what to do next.
Boles’ favoured Norway-style deal – membership of the European Economic Area/European Free Trade Association – is not thought to have the backing of a majority of MPs.
On Monday, a cross-party 62-signature letter was sent to Number 10 in an anguished plea by backbenchers to get May to formally reject the worst case scenario of no-deal. It included the names of 19 Tory MPs – enough to swing a vote against the government.
Independent MP Frank Field has called for the government to agree to “indicative votes” on Brexit: no-deal, May’s deal, the Norway plan, a Canada-style free trade deal, a second referendum
While such a set of motions would not bind the government, and two cabinet ministers said they were open to it, May has poured cold water on the plan.
And while Labour is demanding May face a Commons vote of no-confidence in her leadership, the PM has said she plans to put her deal to a vote in parliament on January 14.