May cannot ignore MPs’ backing for ‘softer’ Brexit, minister warns

Theresa May has been warned by one of her senior ministers that she cannot afford to ignore the will of Parliament if it unites around a “softer” Brexit.

With MPs set to hold a second round of “indicative” votes on alternatives to the Prime Minister’s deal on Monday, Justice Secretary David Gauke said she would have to “look closely” at any option that could command a majority.

After 170 Tory MPs – including 10 members of the Cabinet – wrote to Mrs May urging her to take the UK out of the EU quickly as possible, Mr Gauke reiterated he would resign rather than support a no-deal break.

Despite MPs rejecting Mrs May’s deal for a third time on Friday, Downing Street has made clear that she intends to to bring it back to the Commons for a fourth vote – possibly on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Mr Gauke said that while he believed it still remained the best option, the Government had to accept that – so far – it did not have the numbers to get it through Parliament.

Justice Secretary David Gauke on The Andrew Marr Show
Justice Secretary David Gauke on The Andrew Marr Show (Jeff Overs/BBC)

He said that if MPs did coalesce around a plan by veteran Tory Ken Clarke for a customs union – which came closest to securing a majority in the last round of votes – ministers should be prepared to consider it.

Mrs May has so far strongly rejected the idea of a customs union, saying it went against the Conservative general election manifesto and would prevent Britain striking trade deals around the world.

Any move to accept a customs union would infuriate Brexiteers and would almost certainly lead to ministerial resignations.

However Mr Gauke told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show: “If Parliament is voting overwhelmingly against leaving the European Union without a deal but is voting in favour of a softer Brexit, then I don’t think it’s sustainable to ignore Parliament’s position and therefore leave without a deal.”

“Parliament is not going to allow us to go down that route”

Justice Secretary David Gauke says a no deal #Brexit is not a “responsible act”#Marr

— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) March 31, 2019

He added: “I think we also have to recognise my party does not have the votes to get its manifesto position through the House of Commons at the moment.

“We are in an environment when it is not just about going for your first choice. Sometimes you do have to accept your second or third choice in order to avoid an outcome you consider to be even worse.”

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