Transport minister Jo Johnson has resigned from government and backed a second referendum on Brexit.
The Tory MP said Theresa May’s EU exit plans are pushing the UK towards an “incoherent” departure from the bloc, leaving the UK “trapped in a subordinate relationship to the EU”.
Johnson said his constituents “deserve better” than a choice between May’s “completely unacceptable” proposed deal and no deal.
“I think it is imperative that we now go back to the people and check that they are content to proceed on this extraordinary basis,” he added.
“We will be, instead of being in Europe but not run by Europe, we will be out of Europe and yet wholly subject to European rules.”
It comes amid heightened speculation that May is preparing to sign off a final draft deal with leaders of the European Union, after which she will seek the support of her cabinet.
In a blog for Medium, Johnson, brother of arch-Brexiteer and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, writes: “Although I voted Remain, I have desperately wanted the government, in which I have been proud to serve, to make a success of Brexit: to reunite our country, our party and, yes, my family too.
“At times, I believed this was possible. That’s why I voted to start the Article 50 process and for two years have backed the prime minister in her efforts to secure the best deal for the country.
“But it has become increasingly clear to me that the Withdrawal Agreement, which is being finalised in Brussels and Whitehall even as I write, will be a terrible mistake.”
To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis Jo Johnson, former transport minister
He added voters had been offered two choices which represented “no choice at all”.
He said: “The first option is the one the government is proposing: an agreement that will leave our country economically weakened, with no say in the EU rules it must follow and years of uncertainty for business.
“The second option is a ‘no deal’ Brexit that I know as a transport minister will inflict untold damage on our nation. To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis.”
Calling for a second referendum, the Orpington MP said: “Given that the reality of Brexit has turned out to be so far from what was once promised, the democratic thing to do is to give the public the final say.
“This would not be about re-running the 2016 referendum, but about asking people whether they want to go ahead with Brexit now that we know the deal that is actually available to us, whether we should leave without any deal at all or whether people on balance would rather stick with the deal we already have inside the European Union.”
Boris Johnson, who himself resigned over May’s Brexit plans, backed his brother’s decision, saying: “We may not have agreed about Brexit but we are united in dismay at the intellectually and politically indefensible of the UK position.”
Support for May’s Brexit plan is dwindling, with the DUP today said to be furious over so-called “backstop to the backstop” proposals on the Irish border, which could divide the province from the rest of the UK on customs.
Asked on Friday whether an agreement could make it through Parliament, de facto deputy PM David Lidington said he hoped that if a deal is agreed between the UK and EU it would create a “new dynamic” in Westminster.
“I think that MPs, MEPs too... will be looking at what that deal says,” the Cabinet Office minister said.
They would be faced with “product on the table” – two documents agreed and endorsed by the UK and 27 EU governments – “that will have involved compromises, give and take on all sides”.
“I think then people will need to ask themselves what is it that is going to be in the best interests of those who sent them to Westminster to represent them, to ensure that we maintain living standards and investment and prosperity and employment in our country,” Lidington added.
“I hope and I believe that we can secure that majority in Parliament for the agreement.”
Labour said the resignation – the 18th during the PM’s tenure – showed May had lost authority and could not negotiate Brexit.
Jenny Chapman, Shadow Brexit Minister, said: “Jo Johnson is the eighteenth minister to resign from Theresa May’s government. She has lost all authority and is incapable of negotiating a Brexit deal within her own party, let alone with the EU.
“Theresa May is in office, but not in power.”
Lord Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister and a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign group, added: “This is a very significant resignation. Here is a young politician with everything to gain from staying inside the government, pursuing his distinguished career, keeping his head down and waiting for events to take their course.
“He has not done that. He has resigned on an issue of principle putting the country before his party and his own career.”