Theresa May must give ministers free votes on all Brexit options and become a ‘mediator’, John Major says

Prime minister told MPs have ‘killed’ her deal – and it is time to seek an ‘honest representation of parliament’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 19 January 2019 10:31
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Theresa May delivers statement outside Number 10 Downing Street following second vote of confidence in her government

Theresa May must give her ministers free votes on all the Brexit options and relegate herself to being a “mediator” to solve the crisis, says John Major.

The prime minister was urged to recognise that MPs had “killed” her deal and that attempts to revive it with minor “tinkering” – while sticking to her strict “red lines” – were doomed to failure.

Instead, Sir John called for a radical “act of statesmanship” that would see all MPs freed from party whips to vote freely on whether any alternative could deliver a majority.

“All party leaders would permit a free vote so we can get an honest representation of parliament,” said the former Conservative prime minister.

“And that is in the prime minister’s interest for this reason – it’s the only way to get an absolutely honest answer from members of parliament.

“It removes the danger of resignations from the government, or the opposition front bench, because they disagree with the leaders’ policy.”

The call comes as Ms May appeared to have abandoned attempts to find a cross-party consensus, with no further talks expected before her “plan B” statement to the Commons on Monday.

Instead, she spent Friday meeting various cabinet ministers – which underlined the deep split between those urging compromise and those warning the Tory party will implode if she makes concessions.

The prime minister has ruled out Labour demands for a customs union and to rule out a no-deal Brexit – and is also opposed to a single market membership, or a Final Say referendum.

All would be put forward as options if the Commons carries out “indicative” votes, as others have proposed, but only lifting the party whips would reveal where all MPs stand.

Sir John told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “The prime minister argued valiantly for her deal. She fought for it but the House of Commons killed it and killed it comprehensively.

“So her deal is dead and I don’t honestly think that tinkering with it is going to make very much difference.

“The prime minister still needs a deal. If she can’t deliver one that parliament accepts, then she needs to become a facilitator, a mediator, to find out what parliament will accept.”

Ms May is spending the weekend at her Chequers retreat, before what is likely to be simply a holding statement on Monday – rather than including any proposed changes to her deal.

Cabinet ministers urging her to stand firm include Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, who told The Daily Telegraph that a no-deal exit had to remain an option.

“No deal is not the desired outcome, but it would be incompetent for any responsible government to rule it out, and there are very good reasons for that,” she said.

“If we rule out no deal, we can forget about the EU taking us seriously. We weaken our negotiating hand.”

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