Theresa May faces Tory MPs’ anger over Brexit delay

Theresa May has returned to face the fury of Tory MPs after EU leaders agreed to delay Brexit to give her a final chance to get her deal through Parliament.

Following late-night talks in Brussels, the Prime Minister said the plan would enable the UK to leave in an “orderly manner” in little over eight weeks time.

But amid signs her authority is crumbling, there were open calls for her to quit as MPs voiced their anger  that Brexit will not go ahead on March 29 as planned.

One backbencher warned next week would be a “defining moment” for her premiership and urged her to consider her position.

It followed reports that the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, visited her in No 10 on Monday to inform her of the discontent after being “bombarded” with texts calling for her to quit.

Meanwhile pro-EU MPs have launched a fresh attempt to take control of the Commons business in a bid to secure a “softer” Norway-style Brexit.

Under the plan set out at the EU summit, leaders agreed to extend Brexit to May 22 if Mrs May can finally get MPs to back her deal in a third Commons “meaningful” vote.

Theresa May
Theresa May is facing the fury of Tory MPs (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

However, if she fails the UK will have to set out an alternative way forward by April 12, which could mean a much longer delay – with the UK required to hold elections to the European Parliament – or leaving without a deal at all.

Following defeats by 230 votes in January and 149 votes last week, both pro-EU MPs and Brexiteers warned that she was heading for another heavy reverse.

Nigel Evans, the pro-Brexit executive secretary of the 1922 Committee, said she had made a “big error” in agreeing to a delay, adding pointedly  she needed to consider what would be her legacy if she failed to deliver Brexit.

“It has become a bit of a farce,” he told BBC News.

“When she leaves Downing Street – and a lot of people think it is not going to be long now before she does – what sort of legacy is she going to leave behind?”

Backbencher Steve Double said the Prime Minister was “isolated” and that there were “many people” in the party at Westminster who now wanted her to go.

“I think it is quite clear that she is not leading her party. She is isolated, sadly, from a majority of the parliamentary party now,” he told the Press Association.

“We need to find a way forward and I think that requires new leadership . I know that many people feel that next week is a defining moment and I would very much hope that she would reflect on her position.”

However Tory grandee Ken Clarke warned that a Conservative leadership contest at such a crucial moment would be highly damaging.

“The world would finally decide that the British and their political system had gone mad if we all broke off to have six weeks of a bloody leadership campaign that would probably produce somebody who has no more chance than she has of unifying the party,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Meanwhile, a cross-party group of MPs including Tory former ministers Sir Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve, and the Labour MP Hilary Benn, have tabled another amendment to enable MPs to take control of the Commons order paper.

If MPs back the move in a vote on Monday, it would pave the way for the Commons to hold a series of “indicative votes” on the various alternatives to Mrs May’s plan on Wednesday.

Mr Benn told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “We need to open up this process because we have rejected her deal, we’ve rejected no-deal, the EU has decided to give us a little more time, and we’ve really got to get on with it.”

Aides confirmed that Thursday’s agreement meant a no-deal Brexit was no longer a possibility on March 29, but stressed that it remained on the table if MPs have not approved the Withdrawal Agreement by April 12.

The format increases pressure on Leave-backing MPs to row in behind Mrs May’s deal, for fear that if it falls, the UK could find itself electing new MEPs and remaining for months or years within the EU.

Downing Street was unable to say on which day the Government would seek to bring back the Withdrawal Agreement for a third “meaningful vote” – known in Westminster as MV3.

But sources confirmed that Mrs May will table secondary legislation to remove the date March 29 from Brexit laws.

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