Letter orchestrated by unnamed minister urges no-deal Brexit as Theresa May plots fourth vote

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand

Theresa May has been told to drop her plans for a fourth vote on her Brexit deal, as a government minister has written a letter signed by dozens of MPs telling her to back a no-deal Brexit.

The Prime Minister is consulting senior ministers over the weekend on the way ahead after MPs voted on Friday to reject the Withdrawal Agreement by a majority of 58.

ITV Political Correspondent Paul Brand said the letter was not being widely circulated over fears it could reveal who first authored the piece.

Following the defeat on what was supposed to be Brexit day, Labour called on Mrs May to finally accept that her deal was dead and to call a general election.

Calls for a no deal Brexit were raised by pro-Leave protesters in Westminster on Friday. Credit: PA

The prime minister is under severe pressure from all wings within her own party for her inability to bring through Brexit legislation.

But Downing Street sources have made clear she has not given up hope of getting it through Parliament, despite having already suffered two crushing rejections by MPs.

One source pointed out that the scale of the reverse was significantly less than the previous occasions as a number of prominent Brexiteers, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, Iain Duncan Smith and Dominic Raab, fell into line.

“We continue to believe that the deal the PM has negotiated is the best outcome for the country and we will continue to seek a way forward,” the source said.

Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis said: "The best way to move forward is getting that withdrawal agreement approved and the deal we have brought forward, try to deal with the concerns some colleagues have, but it's actually one that delivers not only on the result of the referendum but in a way that's positive for the UK economy."

However Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader of the pro-Brexit DUP – who Mrs May had been hoping to persuade to back her deal – said he would rather remain in the EU than support it.

“I would stay in the European Union and remain rather than risk Northern Ireland’s position (in the UK). That’s how strongly I feel about the Union,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.

On Monday, MPs will stage a second series of “indicative” votes on alternatives to Mrs May’s deal as backbenchers, led by Tory former minister Sir Oliver Letwin, again take control of Commons business from the Government.

In the first round of votes on Wednesday none of the eight options considered – including a customs union with the EU and a “confirmatory second” referendum – was able command a majority.

Nigel Dodds says he would rather remain in the EU than back Theresa May’s deal Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Discussions between the various groups of MPs involved were expected to take place over the weekend to see if they could coalesce around one of the various proposals, with a “softer” Brexit among the options to be considered.

If one option did emerge as a clear favourite there could be a final run-off vote with Mrs May’s deal.

Rebel Conservative Brexiteers who backed the deal on Friday did so because they feared that – with the pro-EU Commons taking control – the alternatives were either a much softer Brexit, or no Brexit at all.

In Europe, however there was alarm that, with time running out, the UK was heading for a no-deal Brexit.

The result of the vote means that the Government has missed an EU deadline to secure an extension of the Brexit process and leave with a deal on May 22.

Mrs May now has until April 12 to go back to Brussels with new proposals and seek a longer extension to the negotiation process, or see the UK leave without a deal that day.

As European Council president Donald Tusk called an emergency summit for April 10, the European Commission said a ‘no-deal’ break on April 12 was now “a likely scenario”.

Leo Varadkar says Theresa May needs to come forward with proposals to prevent no-deal Credit: Niall Carson/PA

Irish premier Leo Varadkar – whose country is likely to be the remaining member state hardest hit by no-deal – said that it was up to Mrs May to come forward with a plan to prevent that happening.

“It is not clear that the UK has fully understood that no deal is not off the agenda. Rather, it’s a growing possibility,” he said.

The German MEP Manfred Webber, an ally of Chancellor Merkel and a candidate to be the next head of the commission, said there had been “a failure of the political class in Great Britain — there’s no other way to describe it”.

In the Commons, Mrs May said the vote would have “grave” implications, and hinted at a possible general election, warning “we are reaching the limits of this process in this House”.

With a clear majority in the Commons against no-deal, she said that failure to support her plan was “almost certain” to involve an extended delay to Brexit, with the UK required to hold elections to the European Parliament in May.