Britain was last night facing the chaos of a general election to break the Brexit deadlock.
Minutes after her deal was rejected, the Prime Minister signalled a national poll could now be on its way.
‘I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House,’ Theresa May told MPs. She also hinted that she may have yet another attempt at pushing her withdrawal deal through the Commons next week.
She yesterday confirmed publicly that she will step down within weeks if Parliament approves her deal. She made the offer at a private meeting of Tory MPs, then told the Commons: ‘I have said I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended to secure the right outcome for this country.’
Downing Street refused three times to deny the Prime Minister was now considering going to the country. If a national vote is held it would be the third general election in just four years.
Minutes after her deal was rejected, the Prime Minister signalled a national poll could now be on its way
‘I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House,’ Theresa May told MPs today
Rebel MPs will on Monday hold a second round of indicative votes on alternatives to her deal, such as staying in the customs union or holding a second referendum. The backbenchers led by Sir Oliver Letwin are planning to put through legislation forcing ministers to act if they find a majority.
That could precipitate a general election as Mrs May has warned she would not accept a soft Brexit that contradicts the party’s manifesto commitments on leaving single market and customs union.
But elections expert Sir John Curtice, who is president of the British Polling Council, yesterday warned that even an early election may not resolve the Brexit deadlock – predicting it would lead to another hung parliament.
He projected that neither of the main parties would get the 320 seats needed to have a working majority, with the Tories forecast to have 307 MPs, down seven, and Labour expected to gain 11 MPs to have 256.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the Prime Minister and Cabinet members would hold discussions over the weekend on how to go forward, but warned that an election would be a last resort because of the chaos it would bring.
He told Sky News: ‘I think the last thing this country needs right now is a general election, we have got to sort out the Brexit process. We cannot throw everything up in the air. I know Jeremy Corbyn might like it, it is why he has voted against his own policy today, but I do not see how this country benefits from the chaos of a six or seven week general election campaign.’
So what happens now?
by Jack Doyle, Associate Editor for the Daily Mail
MAY’S DEAL (AGAIN)
Incredibly, Theresa May’s deal isn’t dead yet. Allies think they can engineer one last heave next week, possibly in a ‘run-off’ vote against a customs union proposal. She has reduced a 230-vote defeat first to 149 and now to 58.
Equally incredibly, ministers haven’t given up on the DUP and some hard-line Tory Eurosceptics. Today, Labour MPs in Leave seats will feel the wrath of their constituents. Will they return willing to compromise? In theory, the EU could still agree to the May 22 Article 50 extension, avoiding European Parliament elections in May. Mrs May could resign with her legacy intact. A very long shot.
On Monday, Tory grandee Sir Oliver Letwin will once again oversee a series of votes on alternatives to Mrs May’s deal.
Expect a second referendum, a ‘Norway-style’ single market deal, No Deal and a customs union deal to be presented. If one or other proposal were to pass – and the customs union was defeated by just eight votes last week – the same MPs will return on Wednesday to pass legislation to force the PM to negotiate this alternative. The Cabinet is split over a customs union, which contradicts the party manifesto.
Pushing ahead with it would tear the Tories apart.
After yesterday, the bookies’ favourite. Following the vote, Mrs May warned MPs they were ‘reaching the limits of this process’ – a clear hint an election’s coming, while Downing Street aides pointedly refused to rule one out. Jeremy Corbyn once again demanded a general election, and would be all but guaranteed to vote in favour.
With no way of breaking the Brexit deadlock, Mrs May would secure a long Article 50 extension from the EU, likely to be nine months to a year, then quit as Tory leader to allow a leadership contest.
The winner would fight a general election, possibly in June. The outcome would be highly unpredictable.
Another hung Parliament is not out of the question.
In theory, the new Brexit date is April 12 and as there isn’t time to pass a deal and legislation by then, could we just leave without a deal? Brussels officials are now saying No Deal is a ‘likely scenario’ and the French are talking it up just to make sure the UK leaves and Brexit is resolved. Many Tory MPs want Mrs May to push ahead with No Deal, and a delegation of Brexiteers went into No10 last night to urge her to do so. But in truth Parliament can – and probably will – stop it happening, either by forcing Mrs May to get a long extension or by revoking Article 50 altogether.
Not likely any time soon. Supports still believe they can attach a second referendum to whatever deal emerges next week, but there’s no sign a majority of MPs would support it.
Labour leavers may not vote for Mrs May’s deal, but they’re certainly not going to endorse another referendum.
The most likely – arguably the only – route to a second referendum is via a general election, but only if Mr Corbyn gets into Downing Street.
Mr Grayling, who ran Mrs May’s 2016 leadership campaign, said he did not believe she should step down yet.
‘Theresa May has already said she is going to go, but in the middle of this situation I do not think it would help to have an immediate Conservative leadership contest,’ he added. Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the Prime Minister could call an early election, giving just six weeks’ notice, if backed by two-thirds of MPs.
It could also happen if a motion of no confidence in the Government is passed by a majority of MPs and within 14 days an alternative government is not formed.
Cabinet ministers and Tory MPs are likely to demand that Mrs May is replaced by a new party leader before an election takes place.
The timetable and rules for a leadership contest would be decided by the 1922 executive committee and then approved by the Conservative party’s board.
It has previously been suggested the entire process could take 12 weeks, but it is expected the process would be speeded up if a general election was on the cards.
There are likely to be disagreements over what the party would have as its manifesto policy on Brexit, with many backbenchers likely to stand with their own individual pledges on the way forward.
If a general election took place, it could see voters facing three ballots in quick succession as it would require a delay to Brexit, meaning the country would be required to hold European Parliament elections on May 23. Local elections are scheduled to take place across much of the country on May 2.
Labour leader Mr Corbyn yesterday demanded that Mrs May step aside so a general election can be held. Following the Government defeat, he told the Commons: ‘This is now the third time the Prime Minister’s deal has been rejected. When it was defeated the first time, the Prime Minister said it was clear this House does not support the deal.
‘Does she now finally accept this House does not support the deal? Because she seemed to indicate just now that she is going to return to this issue again.
‘The House has been clear this deal now has to change. If the Prime Minister can’t accept that then she must go.’
The Brexit Betrayal: On the day we should have left the EU, Corbyn conspires with Brexiteers to block deal AGAIN plunging Britain into chaos
by Jason Groves and John Stevens for the Daily Mail
Britain was in political paralysis last night after Jeremy Corbyn allied with hardline Eurosceptics to block Brexit.
On the day the UK was meant to leave the EU, MPs threw out Theresa May’s withdrawal deal by 344 votes to 286 – wrecking hopes of an orderly departure.
Britain faces having to hold European Parliament elections in May – almost three years after the referendum.
Mrs May even said a general election might be needed to break the deadlock, telling the Commons: ‘I fear we are reaching the limits of the process in this House.’ Her solicitor general Robert Buckland said: ‘The prospect of no Brexit is becoming a very real one indeed.’
Jeremy Corbyn yesterday ordered his MPs to vote against a stripped-down version of Mrs May’s exit plan, which Labour had previously indicated it could accept.
Britain was in political paralysis last night after Jeremy Corbyn allied with hardline Eurosceptics to block Brexit
Immediately following the Government’s defeat, the Labour leader called for an election – without offering any solution to resolve the crisis.
Thirty-four Tory rebels, including 28 Brexit hardliners dubbed the Spartans, also voted to reject the withdrawal agreement. Tory chairman Brandon Lewis said: ‘Labour just voted against Brexit on Brexit Day. Whatever they say, they don’t want us to leave the EU. Labour’s promise to honour the referendum result lies in tatters.’
Government sources suggested Mrs May’s plan could be put to MPs for a fourth time next week – possibly in a ‘run-off’ against a soft Brexit option, such as a customs union.
However, Speaker John Bercow has ruled against repeated votes on the same matter.
As supporters of Brexit rallied in Parliament Square:
- Mrs May confirmed publicly that she would leave Downing Street ‘earlier than I intended’ in a bid to heal Tory divisions;
- Ministers prepared to ask the EU for a further delay to Brexit at an emergency Brussels summit on April 10;
- Tory leadership contenders Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab dropped their opposition and voted for the withdrawal agreement;
- A cross-party group of MPs led by Sir Oliver Letwin and Yvette Cooper said they would try to persuade Parliament to back a soft Brexit on Monday;
- The European Commission said a No Deal Brexit was now a ‘likely’ scenario;
- The DUP’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds said he would rather remain in the EU than risk the break-up of the United Kingdom.
Mrs May yesterday dropped the political declaration element of her exit package and let MPs vote only on the withdrawal agreement, which includes the divorce bill, 21-month transition period, protections for citizens’ rights and the Irish backstop.
Opening the debate, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said Labour had ‘not emitted a peep of disagreement with a single clause or article of that agreement, and their position today is that they intend to vote it down. What kind of cynicism is that?’
Mr Corbyn said Labour would never support a ‘blind Brexit’ shorn of the political declaration that sets out a vision for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Ahead of the vote, the pro-Corbyn Momentum group suggested MPs could face deselection if they backed the withdrawal agreement, saying: ‘After years of botched negotiations, it’s time for all Labour MPs to reject May’s abysmal deal once and for all. Any Labour MP voting for a deal that leaves us with an uncertain future is undeserving of being a Labour MP.’
Government sources suggested Mrs May’s plan could be put to MPs for a fourth time next week, but speaker John Bercow has ruled against repeated votes on the same matter
Only five Labour MPs voted with the Government.
Britain faces a hung Parliament if another general election is held
Sir John Curitce’s latest numbers suggest a near identical Commons would be returned – accept with slightly weaker Tory and Labour parties in a more hung parliament
If No 10 does call another general election Britain faces another hung Parliament, according to the latest polling on the issue.
The majority of public is also opposed to going back to the polls to break the Brexit deadlock at Westminster.
But Theresa May may be forced to call a possible snap general election within weeks if she loses because remainer MPs will try to force her to deliver a soft Brexit or a second referendum.
Now she has lost MPs are preparing to force a soft Brexit and long delay to leaving the EU upon May next week.
No 10 has threatened to call a general election rather than be forced into a soft Brexit – but looming over that threat is a new forecast of what might happen in a snap election by polling expert Sir John Curtice.
But Sir John’s latest numbers suggest a near identical Commons would be returned – accept with slightly weaker Tory and Labour parties in a more hung parliament.
The figures suggest even the dramatic step of a new general election would do little to break the stalemate.
The PM hopes this bleak outlook will persuade Labour MPs to back it as the party has accepted the divorce deal – but she is set to be disappointed. She needs 75 more votes than she got on March 12 to win.
Polls since the 2017 election have seen the two main parties mostly neck and neck. The Tories have held a narrow lead in recent months
The 34 Conservative MPs who voted against the exit plan included hardliners from the European Research Group, such as former ministers Steve Baker, Priti Patel and Owen Paterson. They were joined by Remainers including Dominic Grieve and Justine Greening.
Mr Baker said: ‘I regret to say it is time for Theresa May to follow through on her words and make way so that a new leader can deliver a withdrawal agreement which will be passed by Parliament.’
Michael Fabricant, one of 40 Eurosceptic Tories to switch sides and back Mrs May, said: ‘If Brexiteers think that a victory has been won, because Remainers and Labour voted down the deal, think again.
‘On Monday, the Remainer Parliament will try to keep us in the customs union which means our obeying EU legislation and having no say in making it.’
Mrs May said the result ‘would mean at least a delay and perhaps destroy Brexit’.
On Monday, Sir Oliver will lead a fresh series of ‘indicative votes’ on Brexit alternatives. If he can build a consensus around a soft Brexit option, such as membership of the single market and customs union, Parliament could order Mrs May to pursue it. Remainer ministers, including Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke, were last night urging Mrs May to embrace a customs union policy.
One Cabinet minister told the Mail they believed the UK would end up in a customs union. ‘I just can’t see what the alternatives are,’ said the source.
‘The customs union vote is close and there are a lot of people in Cabinet pushing for it.’
Treasury Chief Secretary Liz Truss has told MPs Mrs May should ‘play hard ball’ and push for No Deal – by refusing to lay the regulations for the European elections.
Mr Raab called on ministers to step up preparations for No Deal.
Government sources last night insisted Mrs May’s plan was not dead, pointing out that it was defeated by ‘only’ 58 votes – down from 149 earlier this month and 230 in January.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been deployed to try to build bridges with the DUP, whose ten MPs are seen as critical to any chance of the withdrawal agreement passing.
But Mr Dodds insisted: ‘I would stay in the European Union and remain, rather than risk Northern Ireland’s position. That’s how strongly I feel about the union.’
Dominic Raab courts Eurosceptics by backing no deal ahead of fight with Michael Gove and Boris Johnson to be the next Tory leader
Dominic Raab attempted to court Eurosceptic Tories last night after endorsing a No Deal Brexit.
The former Brexit secretary, who is seen as a leading candidate to succeed Theresa May, changed his long-standing position to vote in favour of the withdrawal deal.
Speaking in the Commons, he said he wanted to avoid a long extension to Article 50 delaying Brexit and also to avoid the prospect of the UK taking part in European Parliament elections starting on May 23.
But shortly after the vote he made another pitch to hardliners, posting a clip of his speech, with a statement saying: ‘We need to expedite our preparations for a WTO departure.’ This is a reference to trading on World Trade Organisation terms, without an EU trade deal.
By switching, he was in the same voting lobby as Boris Johnson, who also abandoned his opposition to the deal this week.
Dominic Raab attempted to court Eurosceptic Tories last night after endorsing a No Deal Brexit
By switching and backing May’s deal, he was in the same voting lobby as Boris Johnson, who also abandoned his opposition to the deal this week
Explaining his decision yesterday, Mr Johnson wrote on Twitter that he remained ‘intensely critical of the deal’.
But he said: ‘We have a choice to make now, and that means choosing between options that actually exist.
‘I have come to the sad conclusion that neither this Government nor this Parliament is willing to leave with no deal. We therefore run the risk of being forced to accept an even worse version of Brexit or losing Brexit altogether.
‘A bad deal that we have a chance to improve in the next stage of negotiations must be better than those alternatives.
‘It is very painful to vote for this deal. But I hope we can now work together to remedy its defects, avoid the backstop trap and strive to deliver the Brexit people voted for.’
Mr Raab told the Commons he wanted to avoid a long delay to Brexit because of the ‘very dangerous and corrosive effect on public trust in our democracy’.
His intervention came as leadership candidates faced a furious backlash from Tory MPs for ‘posturing’ for the leadership before Brexit had been secured.
Mrs May said on Wednesday she would quit as Tory leader if her Brexit deal went through. But with no sign of a Commons majority, MPs said the leadership contenders should focus on getting Brexit through instead of their own ambitions.
One Cabinet minister raged: ‘Everyone is building leadership campaigns and just looking at the prize. But no one is doing anything to get the deal done.
‘There’s going to be nothing left! They’re going to be fighting to be leader of the opposition.’
In the Commons, former Home Office minister Sir Mike Penning said: ‘Those running leadership campaigns to replace her should, for God’s sake, put it on the back burner until we get this through.’
One member of the Government said the attempts by leadership candidates to court media attention this week were ‘unseemly and grubby’.
The MP, who said they had been courted by all the likely contenders, said: ‘I told them you’ve got to sort Brexit first.
‘There’s no point having a vision if you haven’t got Brexit through.’
Allies of Jeremy Hunt furiously denied reports he had already secured the support of 75 MPs, and had another 25 ‘possibles’. The report, one friend said, was an attempt to portray him as the favourite.
So who are the candidates looking to replace May and what chance have they got?
Michael Gove – 5/2
Unlike Boris and Raab, Gove has kept on board with May’s deal and will therefore have greater appeal among his remainer colleagues. He was also seen as a ‘high priest of Brexiteers’, meaning he could appeal to Tories on both sides of the divide.
The drawback of this position is that hardline leavers and remainers may see him as part of opposing side. His other potential drawback is his perceived disloyalty after he knifed Boris Johnson in last leadership contest.
Mr Gove, 51, the adopted son of a Scottish fish merchant, is a cabinet heavyweight who’s served as Education Secretary and Justice Secretary.
His debating skills, intellect and wit put him well above many candidates and is popular with Tory members.
Boris Johnson – 4/1
The 54-year-old former Foreign Secretary is undoubtedly the best-known candidate outside of the Westminster bubble.
His scruffy style, regular TV appearances, chaotic private life and show-off Classics references make him well known to the electorate.
He has experience of power and winning elections, having been twice voted London mayor but was seen as a bumbling foreign secretary.
He is unpopular among many MPs, who may form a ‘Stop Boris’ campaign to prevent him getting to Number 10.
However, party grassroots members love him and he’s top of the ConservativeHome league table.
It has been claimed Home Secretary Sajid Javid (pictured in Downing Street) has floated the idea of a ‘dream ticket’ with him as Prime Minister and Mr Gove as Chancellor
Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab fell in line behind the deal today, denting his popularity among hardline Brexiteers
Sajid Javid – 9/1
The Home Secretary, 49, is a remainer who changed to a Brexiteer after the referendum.
He is the son of a bus driver who came to Britain from Pakistan with £1 in his pocket. Javid proved himself in business, becoming head of credit trading at Deutsche Bank.
He has experience of being Culture and Business secretary, a role in which he cracked down on union rights.
His strengths are seen as his extraordinary rags-to-riches back story, but is widely seen as a wooden and poor public speaker.
There were rumours earlier this week that he could form part of the ‘Stop Boris’ ticket, with Michael Gove potentially in support.
Dominic Raab – 8/1
The 46-year-old former Brexit Secretary and diehard Brexiteer is the son of a Czech-born Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis in 1938 and died of cancer when Raab was 12.
He is relatively inexperienced, lasting only four months as Brexit Secretary. He voted against May in leadership confidence vote. Mr Raab is seen as a skilled debater who honed his skills as an adversarial lawyer with blue chip legal firm Linklaters.
His weekness is that he seen lacking people skills and thus is unlikely to beat a more experienced candidate.
Others in the running include Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey
Jeremy Hunt – 6/1
The Foreign Secretary, 52, is an ex-Remainer who may arouse suspicion among the party’s Brexiteer members.
How will the next leader be chosen?
- If Mrs May’s deal goes through, the UK is likely to leave the EU on May 22 and she would resign as Tory leader that day but stay on as interim PM while the contest to replace her begins.
- Any Tory MP can stand but they need two nominations from colleagues.
- A series of secret votes would be held every Tuesday and Thursday among the 314 members of the Conservative Parliamentary Party.
- The last-placed candidate is eliminated at every stage and once it is clear who the front-runners are the back-markers usually drop out and support someone else.
- After David Cameron stood down following the referendum in 2016 there were five candidates in the first round, who were whittled down to two: Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom.
- The final two candidates then move on to the second phase, when party members vote by postal ballot.
- Candidates will be expected to make speeches to members and tour the country to try to win support. This second phase is likely to last for up to a month.
- Only members who have been in the party for three months or more can vote in a leadership contest, so joining now would not entitle you to a say.
- Conservative sources say the whole process could be completed within a month to six weeks.
He is the eldest son of Admiral Sir Nicholas Hunt and is married to a Chinese wife and he speaks Mandarin.
He has business experience and, before politics, he set up an educational publisher which was sold for £30million in 2017.
Mr Hunt has widespread cabinet experience and was the longest-serving health secretary in history.
Despite being one of the most experienced ministers in the field, unusually, he has made few political enemies and is therefore seen as someone who could unite the party after devisive battles over Brexit.
Andrea Leadsom – 20/1
The Leader of the Commons gained quite following when she stood for leader in 2016, but her bid fell apart when she made an ill-considered comment comparing her experience as a mother to the childless Mrs May.
Mrs Leadsom is a 55-year-old mother of three and a former city trader.
Since then however, she has blossomed as Leader of the Commons, winning plaudits for taking on Speaker John Bercow.
Popular among members and colleagues, she is now widely expected to have another tilt as leading the party.
Esther McVey – 50/1
The 51-year-old former Welfare Secretary is also an ardent Brexiteer.
She spent the first two years of her life in foster care and was a breakfast TV presenter before becoming a Tory MP on Merseyside.
Won plaudits with members for resigning from Cabinet over Brexit deal and is seen as tough, having braved out vicious targeting by Labour during her time as welfare minister.
Some in the party say she doesn’t have the intellectual fire power for top job and she is ranked 14th in ConservativeHome league table.
Andrea Leadsom is also expected to throw her name into the hat after her bid in 2016
What happens now that May’s deal has failed?
MPs will try to force a soft Brexit next week – and No 10 has threatened to call an election rather than be railroaded.
Technically Brexit day will be reset to April 12, but rebel MPs have already started the process to delay that by months or even years.
On Monday, MPs will have more ‘indicative votes’ to choose a Brexit alternative. Momentum is gaining for a majority to form behind agreeing a customs union with the EU and holding a second referendum.
Once MPs have a majority for a Brexit alternative, they will try to pass a law on Wednesday to force Theresa May to adopt their plan.
Ministers have threatened to call an election if MPs force them into a soft Brexit – and at this point May could call one.
The PM can call an election by getting a two thirds majority of MPs – which is unlikely to be difficult because Labour also want one.
A snap election would be incredibly messy and would likely deliver a similar division among the parties.
May could instead announce she is stepping down, agree a long delay to Brexit to hold an election and Tory leadership contest.
A delay to Brexit would also mean Britain must participate in EU elections at the end of May.