Theresa May is 'inevitably' heading for a soft Brexit as her Cabinet threatens walkout

UK Parliament / Jessica TaylorMPs during a debate on indicative votes on Brexit in the House of Commons, 27 March 2019.
  • Theresa May has been warned by her chief whip and other ministers that the government will be forced to move towards a softer Brexit.
  • The prime minister faces multiple resignations if she does soften up her deal by asking the EU to stay in the customs union.
  • MPs will vote on Monday evening on a series of alternative options to May’s Brexit deal to see if one can win support from parliament.
  • A plan for a softer Brexit involving a customs union is seen as most likely to win a majority.

LONDON – Theresa May will “inevitably” have to accept a soft Brexit, a senior member of her government has warned, as Cabinet ministers threaten to resign if the government U-turns and allows a Customs Union with the EU.

Members of Parliament will on Monday evening take part in a vote which could ultimately force May’s government into a softer Brexit. A proposal to stay in the Customs Union is the most likely to pass the Commons after losing by just eight votes when it was first put to Parliament last week.

Now in an extraordinary intervention, chief whip Julian Smith – who is tasked with maintaining discipline among Conservative MPs – said Theresa May should have admitted that a softer Brexit than she had planned was inevitable when the Conservatives lost their majority in the 2017 election.

“The government as a whole probably should have just been clearer on the consequences of that,” he told the BBC.

“The Parliamentary arithmetic would mean that this would be inevitably a kind of softer type of Brexit.”

Digital minister Margot James tweeted that Smith was “absolutely right” to say the country was heading for a softer deal and said he had reflected “the harsh reality that so many hard Brexiteers need to hear.”

The comments follow the Justice Secretary David Gauke, telling the BBC on Sunday that it would not be “sustainable” for the government to ignore the House of Commons if it votes for a soft Brexit.

“Sometimes you do have to accept your second or third choice to avoid an outcome you consider to be even worse,” Gauke told the Andrew Marr show.

However, Theresa May has been warned that she will suffer resignations and a potentially permanent split in the Conservative party if she does try to implement a customs union this week.

Ministers including Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and International Development secretary Penny Mordaunt have made it clear they will resign if the prime minister bows to the will of parliament should it vote for such a deal, according to a Times report.

Several ministers will confront the prime minister at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning following Monday’s votes to determine whether she is willing to break her own red lines and ask the EU to add a customs union to her deal.

While the plan could win a majority in parliament this week, most votes for the plan would come from opposition benches. Only 34 Tory MPs from a total of 314 voted in favour of a customs union last week.

A fourth vote on May’s deal?

May’s government is considering bringing May’s deal back for a fourth vote this week, possibly as early as Tuesday, with less than two weeks to go until Britain is scheduled to leave the EU.

Some aides believe that a vote for the customs union could boost support for the deal among Conservative MPs who are desperate to avoid a softer Brexit.

May is also considering plans to bring Labour MPs on board by offering parliament a greater say in the second phase of Brexit negotiations.

The government will make clear its plans for another so-called meaningful vote after Monday evening’s Commons vote on different Brexit options.

However, bringing back the vote for a fourth time could prove difficult, given the House of Commons speaker suggesting he would block any move for the deal to be voted on again.

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