London — Cabinet ministers will attempt to take control of Brexit by telling Theresa May it is “time to embrace no deal” after her EU Withdrawal Agreement was rejected by MPs for a third time.
The Prime Minister will hold a conference call with her ministers Sunday night amid calls for a Cabinet vote on how to proceed.
Senior backbenchers said May had reached the end of the road and should quit but she stood firm, wanting to put her deal to a parliamentary vote for a fourth time next week.
She hinted that if MPs refuse to follow her she might call a general election to break the impasse, warning MPs: “I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House.”
On the day that Britain was supposed to have left the EU, thousands of protesters gathered in Parliament Square to demand MPs deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum. Meanwhile, inside the Houses of Parliament, May lost the vote on her Withdrawal Agreement by a majority of 58 as MPs declared the deal “dead”.
Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Dominic Raab, all of whom had previously rejected May’s deal, switched sides and backed it Friday.
But 34 Tory MPs still voted against it, as did the DUP, and despite frantic last-minute lobbying by Tory whips, who offered Labour MPs $174 million (pounds 100 million) for their constituencies if they backed the deal, only five Labour MPs voted with the Government.
In light of the defeat, The Daily Telegraph understands that Gavin Barwell, May’s chief of staff, has been told by Cabinet ministers it is time to give the Cabinet a vote on either no deal or membership of a customs union.
One Cabinet minister said: “Cabinet needs to vote and decide on the Government position. David Cameron did it before the referendum when he asked ministers to put on record their positions. We have got to put our names to something. The Remainers clearly want a customs union as an alternative but there isn’t a majority for that — it would destroy the party.
“We would end up with a Ramsay MacDonald-esque Government where we would be completely at odds with our own party. It’s time to be bold, we need to embrace no deal.”
As well as tomorrow’s conference call, May is expected to hold a Cabinet meeting on Monday morning when ministers will have a second chance to insist she decides on a plan B.
Later the same day MPs will vote on the most popular alternatives to her deal, following a series of “indicative votes” last Wednesday.
Although no one idea achieved a majority, the idea of a customs union lost by just six votes and a second referendum was rejected by just 27 votes.
Cabinet ministers are expected to demand a free vote on Monday, having been ordered to abstain over the indicative votes this week.
Government sources said May hoped that if a customs union or a second referendum proved popular with MPs, hard-core Brexiteers would finally decide to back her deal to avoid a softer alternative.
That would enable her to hold a fourth vote on the deal next Thursday or Friday. Downing Street believes it can find a way of persuading John Bercow, the Speaker, to allow another vote on the deal despite his insistence that it has to be “substantially different” from what has been rejected before.
Number 10 would then try to persuade the EU to extend its offer of a May 22 departure date, despite the offer expiring yesterday.
One Cabinet minister said: “It was so much closer today — MPs are finally figuring out that Brexit is in danger of being lost.
“After all these years and all these months of debate a lot of MPs have still not focused on what this might mean. The votes next week might finally make them realise they are in danger of losing Brexit.”
Government sources said May could even organise a “run-off” between her deal and the result of Monday’s indicative votes.
If she is defeated again she is likely to ask the EU for a long Brexit extension which would involve Britain taking part in the European Parliament elections in May. The Prime Minister will also contemplate holding a general election, but senior backbenchers said the party would not tolerate her fighting another election.
Nigel Evans, executive secretary of 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, said: “If she is going to go back to the European Union and ask for an extension that involves taking part in the European elections she needs to go now.
“There is no reason for her to stay any longer. To do what?
“She can trigger a leadership contest straight away and it could be wrapped up in a couple of weeks.”
Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, responded to yesterday’s Government defeat by arranging an emergency summit of EU leaders for April 10, while the European Commission said a no deal Brexit is now a “likely” outcome.
Nigel Farage told the crowds in Parliament Square that MPs had “turned this day that should have been one of great celebration into a day that history will mark as a day of great betrayal.
“I believe that what’s happened over the course of two years is actually one of the saddest and worst chapters in the history of our nation.”