MPS VOTED twice to block a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances last night, in chaotic scenes that brought another defeat for the prime minister.
Theresa May had told Tories they could vote as they chose on whether to rule out Britain leaving the EU with no agreement on March 29. But she had to change her stance when the House backed a proposal from Labour’s Yvette Cooper that the wording should be altered to reject a no-deal completely.
The PM, whose main bargaining chip with the EU is threatening a no-deal, then urged her party to vote against the tweaked motion. But it passed by 321 votes to 278 — a majority of 43.
Among the 17 Tories who defied the party whip was work and pensions minister Sarah Newton, who resigned from her post in order to do so. A further 12 ministers abstained from voting, including the work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, the justice secretary David Gauke, Scottish secretary David Mundell and the business secretary Greg Clark.
Mark Francois, deputy chairman of the European Research Group of Tory hard Brexiteers, said ‘collective responsibility has disintegrated’ following the string of cabinet abstentions.
But the vote was non-binding and, in law, the UK is still scheduled to leave the EU in just 15 days on March 29.
Mrs May, with both her authority and her voice faltering, confirmed to MPs they would now be offered a new vote today on whether to delay Brexit.
The motion will say that, if her deal with the EU is backed by the Commons, Britain will ask for a postponement lasting until June 30. But if MPs reject the agreement, a longer extension is likely to be asked for.
The deal, already emphatically rejected twice by MPs, is due to be put before them again by Wednesday at the latest.
Environment minister Michael Gove had to speak on Mrs May’s behalf before the votes because her voice was so croaky.
But after the motion passed, she stood up herself to say: ‘The House has today provided a clear majority against leaving without a deal, however I will repeat what I said before.
‘These are about the choices this House faces. The legal default in EU and UK law is that the UK will leave without a deal unless something else is agreed.
‘The onus is now on every one of us in this House to find out what that is. The options before us are the same as they always have been.’
The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said delaying Brexit by extending Article 50 was now ‘inevitable’.
He said: ‘In the last 24 hours parliament has decisively rejected both Mrs May’s deal and no deal. While an extension of Article 50 is now inevitable, responsibility for that extension lies solely and squarely at the prime minister’s door.’
Mr Corbyn added his party would now try in the coming days to hold cross-party talks on a compromise Brexit plan.
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said Britain was embroiled in a ‘constitutional crisis’. He added: ‘What we see from the prime minister is a denial of the facts — her deal is dead.’
The European Research Group could end up backing Mrs May’s deal following the rejection of a no-deal, according to reports last night.
But one of them, ex-Brexit minister Steve Baker, said he had no intention of supporting the agreement when the third ‘meaningful vote’ on it is held.
He said he had canvassed external Brexit campaign groups to find their opinion on whether it was right to vote down the deal.
And he added: ‘I can tell the government that unanimously so far the opinion was the deal is so rotten we were absolutely right to vote it down, and that come what may we should continue to do so. I’ll tell the government now, when meaningful vote three comes back I’ll see to it that we honour what we owe to them to keep voting this down however many times it’s brought back, whatever pressure we’re put under. And come what may, please don’t do it — go back to the EU and say “it won’t pass”.’
The European Commission last night warned that MPs voting against a no-deal was not enough to prevent it — and there could only be a deal if the Commons approved one. An EU official said: ‘There are only two ways to leave the EU: with or without a deal. The EU is prepared for both. To take no deal off the table, it is not enough to vote against no deal — you have to agree to a deal.’
■ FOUR cabinet ministers were apparently given leave to abstain in the main vote. They were work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, business secretary Greg Clark, scottish secretary David Mundell and justice secretary David Gauke. Other ministers to abstain were Robert Buckland, Alistair Burt, Tobias Ellwood, Richard Harrington, Margot James, Anne Milton and Claire Perry.
■ DAVID CAMERON has suggested Theresa May should cut a deal with Labour to avoid crashing out of the EU. ‘Some people who have always wanted Brexit have voted against it again,’ said the former prime minister, who called the 2016 poll and later quit. ‘This is exasperating for the prime minister and I think she should feel free to look at other alternatives for partnership deals and the like,’ he told Sky News near his west London home.