Deep divisions in the Cabinet are being exposed
i|AIWA! NO!|Theresa May’s plans to forge a Brexit Plan B that she can take to the Commons on Monday were dealt a serious blow after one of her closest European allies warned the existing deal could not be “tweaked”. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte cast serious doubts over whether Mrs May would be able to change the existing withdrawal agreement to present it to MPs next week.
Mrs May will spend the weekend trying to patch together a fresh deal to present to MPs on Monday. Such is her difficulty in finding a compromise that satisfies enough MPs to get a deal through Parliament, that Government sources have suggested she could announce an extension to Article 50 at least until July. It is an option she regards as toxic but may yet be forced to agree to.
Brexit date looming Elsewhere, speculation has been mounting within Whitehall and the Commons that the Government is preparing for a snap election as a means of breaking the deadlock.
Mrs May has been holding a series of talks with European leaders, including Mr Rutte who said: “I don’t see how the current deal can be tweaked. She is really expecting Brexit to go ahead on 29 March.”
Mrs May travelled to Chequers, her country residence in Buckinghamshire, on Friday after speaking to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission. Downing Street sources said she had no talks planned with other EU leaders over the weekend, but senior sources told i that an emergency Cabinet or conference call could be arranged for Monday. It follows conversations she held with more than half of her Cabinet team through a series of group and one-to-one meetings to spell out her next steps ahead of Monday’s statement.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt warned before heading into her own audience with the Prime Minister that a no deal Brexit must be kept on the table. “It’s only when no-deal is better than a bad deal is believed by the EU that we’ll maximise our chances of a deal,” she said on Twitter.
It exposes the deep divisions in the Cabinet, following comments by Chancellor Philip Hammond that he believed a no deal Brexit would be scrapped. Senior MPs from opposition parties met Mrs May and her de facto deputy David Lidington to discuss possible options to change her Brexit plans, such as delaying Article 50 and putting the deal to the public in a second referendum. But many were left deeply sceptical that any significant changes would be forthcoming. Green MP Caroline Lucas told i she left her meeting with the Prime Minister with a sense that very little would change. “I asked what areas she would be willing to give ground on, and she just said that wasn’t the purpose of the meetings,” Ms Lucas said.
“She is hoping that during these talks a dazzling light will be shone that will show her how to tweak her deal that will bring round MPs,” she added. “That approach might have worked if had been just a dozen MPs who had voted down her deal but not 230.”