Theresa May forced to shelve Brexit vote and publication of bill as crisis deepens

Delay follows the resignation of Andrea Leadsom - with threat that more Brexiteer ministers will follow her, unless legislation is amended or scrapped

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 23 May 2019 12:31
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Theresa May: 'If Parliament passes the Bill before the summer recess, the UK will leave the EU by the end of July'

The crisis surrounding Theresa May has deepened after she was forced to shelve the publication of – and vote on – her Brexit bill.

MPs were told the government now “hope” to finally reveal the detail of the withdrawal agreement bill in the first week of June – not tomorrow, as she promised.

The vote was pencilled in for Friday 7 June, but the Commons will not be sitting that day, fuelling the expectation that the bill will be dropped altogether.

The delay follows the resignation of Andrea Leadsom and the threat that more Brexiteer ministers will follow her out of the door, unless the legislation is amended or scrapped.

The prime minister also has a date of destiny with the head of the powerful 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers tomorrow, at which she will be ordered to accelerate her departure from No 10.

Graham Brady could also demand she drop the withdrawal agreement bill – or face another vote-of-no-confidence of Conservative MPs.

The executive of the 1922 committee held a secret ballot on Wednesday to change the party rules to allow the challenge, but the votes are currently in sealed envelopes.

If Ms May is forced to abandon the legislation, her resignation would almost certainly follow quickly – despite the imminent arrival of Donald Trump for his controversial State Visit on 3 June.

On Wednesday, the prime minister told MPs: “The withdrawal agreement bill will be published on Friday, so that the House has the maximum possible time to study its detail.”

But, less than 24 hours later, Mark Spencer, a government whip, told the Commons: “We do intend to publish the withdrawal agreement bill the week commencing 3 June.”

On the vote itself, he said: “We will update the House on the publication and introduction of the withdrawal agreement bill on our return from the Whitsun recess.”

Downing Street blamed Labour for the failure to schedule second reading of the bill on 7 June, saying it had not been possible to reach agreement through the “usual channels”.

But Labour dismissed the claim as “a smokescreen”, a source insisting it was the government that scheduled Commons business, not the opposition.

The new threat to Ms May’s future flows from anger that she would enable a vote on a Final Say referendum at a later stage of the bill – even though she refused to write a public vote into the legislation, as supporters demanded.

But, Peter Kyle, a Labour People’s Vote backer, said the prime minister had been forced to “retreat” because she knew she faced inevitable defeat anyway.

“There is no majority in parliament for any Brexit that does not explicitly include ratification by the people,” he said.

Asked if the prime minister was disappointed by the fierce backlash to her “new Brexit plan” amongst her own minister, her spokesman said: “This is a subject which throughout has provoked strong emotions in the House of Commons.

“What the prime minister has been trying to do throughout is find a withdrawal agreement which can carry the support of a majority of MPs, because she is determined that the UK should leave the EU.

“That’s what she’s been working for for the past three years and what she is trying to do this week.”

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