Brexit: Theresa May calls crunch cabinet talks as UK heads towards election that ministers admit nobody actually wants

A cabinet minister told The Independent rebel Tory MPs must decide if they still want Brexit to happen or not

Indicative votes result: None of MPs' proposed Brexit options wins clear backing in Commons

Theresa May has called five-hours of crunch talks with her most senior cabinet ministers on the increasingly likely election that “nobody actually wants”.

Despite the most senior Downing Street advisors being bitterly divided on the desirability of a general election, ministers are set to discuss calling the country to the polls if the prime minister’s deal fails to go through.

Pressure intensified on Ms May on Monday after MPs once again failed to back any alternative Brexit plan during a series of “indicative votes”, although a proposal for a customs union lost by a majority of just three.

Senior Conservative MP Nick Boles, involved in trying to hammer out one of the customs-union compromise options, dramatically quit his party from the floor of the House of Commons after the vote, accusing his Tory colleagues of being unable to compromise.

With the UK currently set to drop out of the EU in 10 days’ time unless a deal is reached, the tense stand-off in parliament showed no sign of abating.

It means that on Tuesday the usual 90-minute cabinet meeting will be ditched, with ministers told to clear their diaries for two meetings lasting five hours in total.

The first, between 9am and noon, will be a “political cabinet”, where top ministers discuss political strategy and party matters without government officials listening in.

This will then be followed by the more usual cabinet meeting to discuss government matters, such as no-deal Brexit preparations, with civil servants taking notes.

Downing Street insisted on Monday that the prime minister still believed a general election was not in the national interest, despite deputy-Conservative chairman James Cleverly admitting his party was engaged in “sensible and pragmatic” planning for a snap poll.

The issue is likely to feature during the political cabinet, with one top minister telling The Independent: “Nobody actually wants an election. No one.

“But the real issue for many MPs in my party who still oppose the prime minister’s deal is that now is the time that they are going to have to decide – do they want Brexit to happen or not?”

After seizing control of parliament’s order paper for the second time in a week, MPs once again rejected all of the alternative proposals they could think of to Ms May’s withdrawal agreement.

As well as the narrowest of losses on the proposal from Tory grandee Ken Clarke for a customs union, a demand for giving the public a Final Say on Brexit was defeated by 12 votes and a Norway-style deal – known as Common Market 2.0, put forward by Mr Boles – lost by 21.

John Major suggests that a cross-party government might be the best thing for Britain during Brexit

The former minister, once a close ally of David Cameron, immediately declared that he would no longer sit as a Conservative MP, blaming the party for refusing to compromise on a means of leaving the European Union.

MPs may try again to hold votes on alternatives to Ms May’s plan on Wednesday, and could eventually try to legislate to force the UK into a customs union.

But such a move might only make an election more likely, as Ms May has made clear she could not countenance negotiating such a union for the country; minister Nadhim Zahawi claimed such a soft Brexit would lead to political meltdown in the UK.

Many in government now believe an election is becoming more likely either way, with the Commons looking set to again refuse Ms May’s deal in an expected fourth attempt to get it through later this week.

If that happens the prime minister will have to ask the EU for a long extension, with the bloc already having made clear it would only offer one if either an election or new referendum are held.

That could well also involve the UK being forced to take part in the European elections on 23 May, with Ms May’s deputy, David Lidington, making it clear that councils would be reimbursed for money spent preparing for them.

In a letter to the Electoral Commission, he said: “I am able to confirm that Cabinet Office will reimburse reasonable spending by returning officers on contingency preparations for European Parliament elections.”

In one chink of light for the PM, senior Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested last Friday’s third attempt to pass the Brexit deal would probably have gone through if it had been Ms May’s deal versus a general election.

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