Can Brexit be reversed?

'More than 50' Tory MPs prepared to defy Theresa May to stop no-deal Brexit

Exclusive: 'Parliament will find a way to stop a no-deal Brexit happening if that’s what it takes - including Conservative MPs like myself'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
@Rob_Merrick
Sunday 24 June 2018 18:21
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More than 50 Conservative MPs would defy Theresa May to block any attempt to crash Britain out of the EU without a deal, a former Cabinet minister says.

The prime minister would be thwarted by her own MPs if she tried to carry out her threat to pursue a “no-deal” exit if the negotiations fail, The Independent has been told.

A “humble address” – the tactic employed successfully by Labour to force the government to release the notorious 58 Brexit economic assessments – would be used, it was suggested.

“There are at least 50 Conservative MPs who would be prepared to vote to stop it happening, which would be more than enough to force the government to take notice,” the ex-Cabinet minister vowed.

The warning comes amid growing concern that Ms May continues to insist that leaving without any agreement remains an option – despite her own civil servants warning of food and medicine shortages and huge tailbacks at the UK’s borders.

She faced down a dangerous Tory revolt aimed at securing a “meaningful vote” that would block no deal to enforce her mantra that “Parliament cannot tie the hands of government in negotiations”.

Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, piled on the pressure over the weekend, insisting no deal remained on the table, telling Sky News: “We've got to be free in the negotiation to say if we don't get the deal we want, there won't be any agreement.”

Meanwhile, a letter from 60 politicians and business figures,including including former chancellor Nigel Lawson, vocal Brexiteer John Redwood, and Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin, rammed home the same message.

It urged the government to accelerate plans to operate under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, which many businesses - led by the outspoken Airbus - view as a disastrous outcome.

But the former Cabinet minister told The Independent the success in last week's “meaningful vote” clash would not matter if the no-deal threat became real – because dozens of Tory MPs would intervene.

“In the end, parliament will find a way to stop a no-deal Brexit happening if that’s what it takes, including Conservative MPs like myself,” they said.

Under parliamentary rules, a humble address can be laid by a group of backbenchers – as well as by the Opposition – and the vote is binding on the government.

“A humble address would definitely be one way of doing it,” the ex-Cabinet minister added.

The threat was condemned by leading Brexiteer Philip Davies, the Tory MP for Shipley, in West Yorkshire, who said the Tory MPs were acting against “the UK's national interest”.

"When the prime minister tries to send a message to the EU that the government is prepared to deliver a no deal, these MPs are telling the EU: ‘Don't bother because it's impossible, and the UK will have to accept whatever you offer them,’” Mr Davis said.

“I really think that they are being unhelpful and should get behind the prime minister and allow her to go and negotiate the best possible deal for the UK. They are making her job much harder.”

Ken Clarke, who joined last week’s revolt in favour of a House of Lords amendment to secure the “meaningful vote”, gave the ex-minister’s comments a cautious welcome.

The former Chancellor, said: “If all the Conservative MPs who say they do not want us to leave the EU without a deal acted on that, then it would not happen.

“So, I hope this is right, but it would have been much more straightforward to pass the Lords amendment and for the chance to do that to be in the bill.”

But Dr Sarah Wollaston, who also rebelled, said: “I continue to be concerned about the risks of a cliff-edge, no-deal Brexit ,which I think would have devastating consequences.

“That is why I voted for parliament to have a meaningful final vote and why I was disappointed by the result.”

No 10 was relieved last Wednesday when a “compromise” brokered with some of the rebels almost certainly means a motion – to be tabled if no Brexit agreement has been struck by next January – cannot be amended.

Instead, MPs will merely be able to debate the stalemate, even with departure day from the EU little more than two months’ away at that point.

Gleeful Brexiteers had seized on the failure of the “meaningful vote” revolt as a “pivotal moment”, by ensuring a no-deal Brexit remains an option.

They were also confident that, even if the Commons were to manufacture a vote on the motion on what the government should do next, it would not be legally binding.

Some simply believe the no-deal threat strengthens Britain’s hand in the exit talks – but hardliners are desperate for that “clean break”, rather than to accept further compromise with Brussels.

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