Ministers tell Theresa May to force through Brexit by calling election for days after EU withdrawal

Exclusive: One cabinet minister backing the plan told The Independent: ‘The public are saying, just get on with it’

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Wednesday 09 January 2019 11:15
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What is the Brexit meaningful vote?

Theresa May is being urged to wield her powers as prime minister to ensure Brexit is forced through – regardless of whether there is a successful vote of no confidence against her government.

Brexiteer ministers have indicated that even if the no-confidence vote planned by Labour goes against her, it would be in her gift to set the date of an ensuing election after Brexit day on 29 March.

One cabinet minister backing the plan told The Independent it would mean Ms May could steer the country out of the EU with or without a deal before going to the polls in early April, adding: “The public are saying, ‘just f***ing get on with it’.”

The prime minister acknowledged in cabinet on Tuesday that she could lose the “meaningful vote” on her Brexit deal next week, with Downing Street later indicating it would in that case be ready for a no-deal scenario.

Labour shadow cabinet members today reiterated Jeremy Corbyn’s intention to call a vote of no confidence in the government at that point, with around a dozen Tory MPs thought to be willing to vote to trigger a new general election.

But one Conservative cabinet minister said: “Failing to make Brexit happen would destroy the last bit of faith in politics – it is either this deal or no deal, those are the only two choices.

“If Tory Remainers threaten to join a no-confidence vote, the PM should use her power to set the date of the election. And she should set it for 4 April, after Brexit happens. There would be nothing parliament could do.”

Under the 2011 Fixed-term Parliaments Act the prime minister can be forced into an early election if MPs pass a motion saying that “this house has no confidence in Her Majesty’s government”.

Richard Harrington threatens to resign as minister to stop no-deal Brexit

There would then need to be a 14-day hiatus in which the government might attempt to overturn the motion.

But the legislation then goes on to say that after that, it is for the sitting PM to choose the election day, with no maximum time limit set.

In part 2, subsection 7, it states that “the polling day for the election is to be the day appointed by Her Majesty by proclamation on the recommendation of the prime minister”.

The cabinet source pointed out that while parliament is dissolved during an election campaign, the government still exists, and the civil service can still carry out pre-existing policies.

Such an extraordinary move would be likely to cause resignations from the cabinet, with Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke having indicating that they would not stand for a no-deal Brexit.

But asked what Ms May should do if ministers opted to resign, the cabinet minister told The Independent said: “Say bye bye.

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“The Brexiteers who didn’t agree with the policy quit. They should do the same.”

The frontbencher added: “The PM has not shown any signs of wavering so far.”

Ms May is on a collision course with parliament after Downing Street indicated she would take Britain out of the European Union without a deal if MPs reject her proposals in a crunch vote scheduled for Tuesday 15 January.

At cabinet the prime minister acknowledged defeat could be on the cards next week, telling ministers she would “move quickly” to make a statement if her plans fall.

Her spokesperson later underlined that while she would prefer a deal, “she is going to deliver” Brexit on 29 March regardless – and that is why no-deal preparations had been implemented.

He said after cabinet: “The British people voted to leave the European Union on 29 March this year and that is what she is going to deliver.

“It’s the position of the government that we want to leave with a deal, but we are preparing to leave in other scenarios and that includes no deal.”

Mr Corbyn has vowed to call a vote of no confidence in the government if it loses the meaningful vote on the Brexit deal next week.

Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner reiterated the position, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’re now talking as if it is expected that the government next Tuesday will be defeated on the most important piece of legislation that has come before parliament probably in 50 or more years, that the government has devoted two years of its time to try to negotiate, and we’re now almost accepting that this will simply be defeated and voted down.

“Obviously, the next thing to do immediately after that is for there to be a vote of confidence in the government.”

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