Theresa May has floated the prospect of ditching plans to leave the European Union as she secured backing from Cabinet for her Brexit divorce deal.
Speaking from the steps of 10 Downing Street after a marathon five-hour meeting, the UK Prime Minister said MPs who will vote on the agreement with Brussels had to choose between backing her plan or “leave with no deal or no Brexit at all”.
The words were a threat to unhappy Tory Brexiteers who could derail her plans, signalling to them that quitting the bloc in itself is at risk.
But it also marks a significant shift in language from a PM who had previously offered a binary choice of “no deal being better than a bad deal”.
May said: “When you strip away the detail the choice before us is clear – this deal which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money, laws and borders, ends free movement, protects jobs, security and our Union, or leave with no deal or no Brexit at all.”
Quite how she would be able to reverse the result of the 2016 referendum was not spelled out, but the line had road-tested earlier in the day by ex-Tory leader William Hague as he warned Brexiteers they risk no Brexit at all if they vote ‘no’ to May’s deal.
The comments were seized on by Labour MPs who are calling for another referendum on the terms of the exit deal.
Asked by HuffPost UK under what circumstances the PM felt that there could be ‘no Brexit at all’, a Downing Street spokesman said: “You should see that through the prism of Parliament, in that the main opposition party has actively said that Brexit can be stopped, there is a People’s Vote Movement which we have set out our opposition to, and any other number of important votes that will have to occur between now and the 29th of March.”
Brexiteers are unhappy with any deal that would tie the UK too closely to Brussels, following rules which it has no part in shaping.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the influential European Research Group of dozens of Tory MPs, has warned May hasn’t “so much struck a deal as surrendered to Brussels” and that the UK “will be a slave state”.
Remain supporters are against leaving the EU broadly - and the deal specifically - for the economic damage that could be wrought on the UK.
May getting the support of her Cabinet clears the way for a special Brexit summit in Brussels – probably on November 25 – for EU leaders to approve the deal, followed by a crucial Commons vote in which MPs will hold Britain’s future in their hands.
Speaking moments after the meeting’s conclusion, May acknowledged there would be “difficult days ahead” and announced she will outline the deal to MPs in the House of Commons on Thursday.