Resign Rather Than Delay Brexit Further, Senior Tory Tells PM

Taking part in European elections in May would be "utterly intolerable", MPs warn prime minister.

Theresa May has been urged by a senior Tory MP to resign and collapse the government rather than delay Brexit any further if her deal is rejected again.

Sir Edward Leigh, a Brexiteer who backs the prime minister’s withdrawal deal, said an extension of Article 50 further than May 22 would be “utterly intolerable” as it would mean Britain taking part in European elections this spring.

Philip Davies, a Leaver who switched votes to back her deal earlier this month, also said a long delay would be an “appalling betrayal of trust”.

It came as Brexit minister Kwasi Kwarteng appeared to suggest the government would offer MPs a chance to vote on alternatives to May’s deal if it is rejected in a third meaningful vote, expected next week.

Answering an urgent question, he said it would be “reasonable” to try and “find what the House would tolerate” if the prime minister’s deal is rejected again, and that it would be “surprising” if the Tories were not offered free votes.

But sources were initially unable to say definitively if Kwarteng, an ally of pro-EU cabinet minister Amber Rudd, was setting out a personal view or revealing May’s plan B if her deal is rejected – a sign of the chaos the government now finds itself in.

Any so-called indicative votes would open up the possibility of the Commons backing an alternative to May’s plan that could require a long Brexit delay to implement.

But the PM’s future in Downing Street would be put in peril by a longer extension to Article 50 than she agreed at the European Council summit, Sir Edward suggested.

He asked Kwarteng: “Will he make absolutely clear today on behalf of the whole Government, not just the prime minister, but three years after the referendum it’d be utterly intolerable if we were still in the EU during the European elections.

“I want him to give an absolute commitment today that the government would rather resign than be privy to such an appalling betrayal of the people’s trust.”

Davies later added: “The government could and should leave on March 29, as it promised all the way along, and will he give an absolute assurance that the two dates mentioned – the one in May and the one in April – that they will not be superseded by pushing it to a later date under any circumstances whatsoever, because to do so would be the most appalling betrayal of trust of the British people.”

May said at a late-night press conference in Brussels that she would be bringing back her Brexit deal for a third “meaningful vote” next week.

Downing Street has not said which day the vote will take place but her spokesman said it was important that there was a “realistic prospect of success”.

But with MPs on all sides warning May her deal is likely to be rejected again following her heavily criticised Downing Street address to the nation on Wednesday, Kwarteng faced questions on the next steps.

Labour’s Karen Buck asked the minister about comments made by May’s deputy, David Lidington, last week, in which he said the government would “facilitate a process... to allow the house to seek a majority on the way forward” in the two weeks after the EU summit which concludes today.

Lidington’s comments were widely interpreted as a promise to hold indicative votes, but a cross-party group of MPs is still set to launch its own attempt to take over parliamentary business to allow time for such a debate on Monday.

Kwarteng said: “I think that if the meaningful vote is voted down then it would be reasonable to have a wide debate in the House as the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lidington) suggested two weeks ago to find where the House, or what teh House would tolerate and how it sees things going forward.

“I agree with that.”

In answer to another question, he added: “Obviously if the House is being asked to decide a way forward, it would be surprising if those votes were not free votes.”

Stoke Central MP Gareth Snell meanwhile hinted at concessions the government could make to win round Labour MPs in Leave-backing seats like himself, calling for the government to publish laws giving parliament have a much greater say over the next phase of negotiations with the EU.


What's Hot