Tory MPs including Boris Johnson have rejected a “new Brexit deal”offered by Theresa May yesterday in an attempt to break the Commons deadlock.
The prime minister dangled the prospect of a second referendum and full customs union with the EU until the next election to win cross-party backing for her proposals.
However, after she presented the package, the tally of 34 Tory MPs who were holding out against her deal had almost doubled. A bid to woo Labour MPs also appeared to have failed.
In a further blow Michael Gove refused to commit to the vote taking place as planned in the week of June 3. He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “I think that we will reflect over the course of the next few days on how people look at the proposition that has been put forward.”
Brexiteer cabinet ministers were expected to urge Mrs May to abandon what they described as a “doomed and irresponsible” last throw of the dice. They want the prime minister to allow her successor to find a way through the impasse.
Mrs May was said to be determined to press ahead today with a Commons statement outlining the deal. She pledged to publish the full details of her compromise package, including the withdrawal agreement bill, within days.
The prime minister used a speech in central London yesterday to warn MPs that they would have “one last chance” next month to get Britain out of the bloc with an agreement. Another rejection would leave a Brexit deal “dead in the water”, she said. Mrs May added that she had “tried everything I possibly can to find a way through”, including her offer to “give up the job I love earlier than I would like”.
Defending her “difficult decision” to begin talks with Labour she said that she would not give up efforts to reach a cross-party consensus. Her main offer — to make the ratification of her Brexit deal conditional on a vote on a second referendum in parliament — was squarely aimed at Labour. Jeremy Corbyn gave her plan short shrift, calling it a “rehash of her bad old deal”.
Tory Brexiteers, meanwhile, reacted with horror. Mr Johnson was among former converts to her deal to withdraw support. He tweeted that it was “directly against our manifesto — and I will not vote for it. We can and must do better — and deliver what the people voted for.”
Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, said: “I cannot support legislation that would be the vehicle for a second referendum or customs union. Either option would frustrate rather than deliver Brexit — and break our clear manifesto promises.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “I hope that the prime minster will look at the figures, look at the lack of support for her deal, remember that she lost the first vote by 230 and the constitutional conventions and recognise that, in truth, the prime minister does not command a majority in the House of Commons.”
Mark Francois, vice-chairman of the Brexit-supporting European Research Group, declared the deal “dead on arrival”. Steve Baker, another senior member of the group, said that Mrs May had engineered a “truly awful situation” with her “muddled implementation of a failed deal”.
Nigel Evans, executive secretary of the 1922 Committee, also told The Sun that he would be asking his colleagues to “agree to a rule change so we can hold an immediate confidence vote if Theresa is not prepared to stand down now”. He added that Mrs May should “make way for fresh leadership without handcuffing her successor to a poisoned baton”.
Philip Hammond, however, has called on MPs to support the deal and said that a compromise agreement is required.
“If we are to have any hope of re-uniting our country and repairing our politics after the divisions of the last three years, we cannot have half the country feeling they have completely won and the other half, that they have completely lost,” he said during a speech to the CBI yesterday. “Britain needs a Brexit that feels like a compromise, a Brexit that delights no-one, but one that everyone, or nearly everyone, can live with.”
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, called on the prime minister to abandon her withdrawal agreement bill altogether. He told Sky News: “It is already pretty clear that it is heading for a pretty big defeat. I think frankly the prime minister would do well to admit defeat and announce today that she is not going to put the vote.”
In addition to sweeteners for Labour Mrs May outlined measures to appease the DUP, including legislation to prevent a future prime minister from leaving Northern Ireland joined to the EU. Nigel Dodds, the party’s Westminster leader, also withheld support for the proposals, insisting that they retained the “fatal flaws” of the original deal rejected by the Conservatives’ former parliamentary allies.