Three British cabinet ministers have publicly indicated they will back plans to delay Brexit if lawmakers vote down Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for a new deal with the European Union, writing a column in a national newspaper yesterday.
Business minister Greg Clark, work and pensions minister Amber Rudd, and justice minister David Gauke signalled in a Daily Mail column that they will side with rebels and opposition parties next week to stop Britain leaving without a divorce deal on March 29 if necessary, adding their weight to calls for May to rule out a no-deal departure.
May is struggling against the clock to get a deal with Brussels on Britain’s exit from the world’s largest trading bloc that will pass parliamentary muster.
She will meet European Council President Donald Tusk on the sidelines of an EU-League of Arab States summit today, but EU diplomats are not expecting any imminent breakthrough.
In the column headlined If we don’t get a deal next week we must delay Brexit, Clark, Rudd and Gauke wrote that a no-deal exit was a risk to business, security and British territorial unity, and accused some parliament colleagues of complacency.
“Far from Brexit resulting in a newly independent United Kingdom stepping boldly into the wider world, crashing out on March 29 would see us poorer, less secure and potentially splitting up,” they said, referring to the threat of a new bid for Scottish independence.
“Our economy will be damaged severely both in the short and the long term. Costs will increase, businesses that rely on just-in-time supply chains will be severely disrupted and investment will be discouraged,” they wrote.
The ministers called on members of the European Research Group, formed by Conservative pro-Brexit lawmakers, to back the government’s deal in parliament or risk seeing Brexit delayed.
Both May’s Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party are formally committed to delivering Brexit.
In recent days Labour has appeared to soften its stance on a second referendum, although May has ruled such an option out.
Lawmakers from both parties, however, are deeply split over how or even whether Britain will leave, and no majority has so far emerged in parliament for any comprehensive Brexit strategy.
May has promised that if she does not bring a revised deal back by February 27, parliament will have an opportunity to vote on the next steps.
Some lawmakers are expected to use that to try to wrest control of the process from the government.
Meanwhile, a Tory Breixter MP has demanded that the three ministers – Clark, Rudd and Gauke – resign.
Andrew Bridgen, a member of the hard-Brexit European Research Group (ERG), said that the ministers were rejecting government policy in breach of cabinet collective responsibility.
“What they are actually saying is that they are rejecting collective responsibility of being in government, they are rejecting government policy,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “In that case, they should do the honourable thing and resign from the government immediately.”
Bridgen accused Downing Street of orchestrating their actions in an attempt to pressure Tory Brexiters into backing May’s withdrawal agreement.
“This is partly organised by No 10 – potentially Robbie Gibb, the communications director – to try to bully Brexit-supporting MPs into supporting the withdrawal agreement. I am afraid this is not going to work,” he said.
However, the Conservative former minister Nick Boles, who is backing moves to delay Brexit if there is no deal, welcomed the intervention of the three cabinet ministers.
“I think it is courageous and it is principled, and I applaud them for doing it,” he told Today.
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