Three ministers urge Theresa May to take no-deal Brexit off table

Three ministers have urged Theresa May to take a no-deal Brexit off the table as they threatened to back a Commons move to force a delay if her deal is voted down.

Richard Harrington, Claire Perry and Margot James said the Government should say it will seek a way to extend Article 50 to avoid leaving with no deal on March 29 if there is no agreement.

Writing in the Daily Mail, they warned against being “swept over the precipice on March 29”, and said: “It is a commitment that would be greeted with relief by the vast majority of MPs, businesses and their employees.

“We implore the Government to take that step this week.

“But if the Prime Minister is not able to make this commitment, we will have no choice other than to join MPs of all parties in the House of Commons, including fellow ministers, in acting in the national interest to prevent a disaster in less than five weeks’ time that we may regret forever.”

The paper also claimed 15 ministers would be ready to resign to stop no deal.

It came after Mrs May suggested she could try to take her EU Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament before it has been formally approved by the other 27 member states.

Amid growing pressure to delay Brexit with just 32 days left on the clock, the Prime Minister insisted it is “within our grasp” for Britain to leave the EU with a deal on March 29.

European Council president Donald Tusk revealed that he had discussed the legal and procedural process for extending the two-year Article 50 withdrawal negotiations with Mrs May when he met her on Sunday in Egypt.

Mr Tusk said delaying the UK’s withdrawal beyond March 29 is now a “rational solution”, warning that the only alternative, if MPs cannot agree a deal, is “a chaotic Brexit”.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, who had talks with Mrs May in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on Monday, said the UK needed to “wake up”.

EU-League of Arab States Summit
EU-League of Arab States Summit

Mr Rutte told the BBC: “The Netherlands is one of your best friends. What you guys are doing – leaving EU in this time of insecurity in the world, instability in EU – is the wrong decision.

“It’s four weeks until the end date and still the UK has not agreed a position.

“So, now we are sleepwalking into a no-deal scenario. It’s unacceptable and your best friends have to warn you.

“Wake up. This is real. Come to a conclusion and close the deal.”

Despite also facing pressure from pro-Europe Tories for a delay, the Prime Minister insisted in a press conference at the end of a summit of EU and Arab nations that she was sticking to her timetable.

“It’s within our grasp to leave with a deal on March 29 and that’s where all of my energies are going to be focused,” she said.

Challenged over whether MPs would be able to vote on any additional assurances she secures from Brussels before they have been formally signed off by the EU27, Mrs May told reporters: “It is possible to do it either way.”

EU-League of Arab States Summit
EU-League of Arab States Summit

Rejecting calls for a delay, the Prime Minister said: “An extension to Article 50, a delay in this process, doesn’t deliver a decision in Parliament, it doesn’t deliver a deal. All it does is precisely what the word ‘delay’ says.

“Any extension of Article 50 isn’t addressing the issues.

“We have it within our grasp.

“I’ve had a real sense from the meetings I’ve had here and the conversations I’ve had in recent days that we can achieve that deal.”

Mr Tusk said it was “absolutely clear” that if there was no majority in the Commons to approve a deal, Britain faces “chaotic Brexit or extension”.

“The less time there is until March 29, the greater the likelihood of an extension,” said Mr Tusk.

“This is an objective fact. Not our intention, not our plan, but an objective fact.

“I believe that, in the situation we are in, an extension would be a rational solution, but Prime Minister May still believes she is able to avoid this scenario.”

Egypt EU Brexit
Egypt EU Brexit

Mrs May said she had “good” meetings in Egypt with Mr Tusk, Mr Rutte, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Irish premier Leo Varadkar and Italy’s Giuseppe Conte.

“What I sense in all my conversations with my fellow leaders, both here in Sharm El-Sheikh and in recent days, is a real determination to find a way through which allows the UK to leave the EU in a smooth and orderly way with a deal,” she said.

The meetings came after the PM admitted she will not get a Brexit deal in time for MPs to hold a “meaningful vote” this week.

She said she will put her deal to Parliament by March 12 at the latest – 17 days before Britain is due to leave the EU.

The PM faces the prospect of another potentially damaging Commons revolt on Wednesday, when MPs are expected to mount a fresh attempt to block a no-deal break and extend Article 50.

A cross-party group of MPs immediately confirmed they will table an amendment giving the House the power to demand a delay to Brexit if an agreement is not in place by March 13.

In recent days three pro-EU Cabinet ministers – Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark – signalled they could be prepared to back the amendment if there is no breakthrough in negotiations.

There was speculation that up to 100 Tory MPs – including as many as 20 ministers – could be prepared to join them as patience among MPs opposed to no deal is stretched to breaking point.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who drew up the amendment with Conservative former minister Sir Oliver Letwin, said it would become the “real meaningful vote” on the Brexit deal.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The Government doesn’t feel to me to be behaving like a responsible government at all at the moment – the idea that we could be only a few weeks from Brexit and we still don’t know what kind of Brexit we are going to have and we’re not even going to have a vote on it until two weeks before that final deadline.

“I don’t see how businesses can plan, I don’t see how public services can plan, and I think it’s just deeply damaging.”

Mrs May confirmed that Brexit negotiators will return to Brussels on Tuesday for further talks with the EU’s Michel Barnier.