MPs on Monday seized control of the parliamentary timetable for a series of “indicative votes” on the next steps for Brexit – but Theresa May declined to say whether she would abide by the outcome.
An amendment tabled by former Tory minister Oliver Letwin passed, by 329 votes to 302, defeating the government, as MPs expressed their exasperation at its failure to set out a fresh approach.
Government sources confirmed that three ministers resigned from government in order to back the Letwin amendment: foreign affairs minister Alistair Burt, health minister Steve Brine and business minister Richard Harrington.In all, a total of 30 Tory MPs rebelled to vote for it.
Harrington, has been outspoken in his warnings about the risk of a no-deal Brexit in recent weeks. accused the government of “playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country” in his resignation letter.
The prime minister had earlier announced that she does not yet have the support to justify holding a third meaningful vote on her deal – but insisted she won’t hand parliament a “blank cheque” to decide what happens next.
After gathering Brexit-backing grandees at her country retreat of Chequers over the weekend and consulting DUP leader, Arlene Foster, and the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, on Monday, May concluded she could not yet win sufficient backing for her twice defeated deal.
The cross-party group – led by Letwin and Labour’s Hilary Benn – gave MPs a series of votes on the alternatives to May’s deal, such as a second referendum, softer Brexit or revoking article 50.
EU leaders have handed Britain a Brexit delay to 22 May, if May’s deal is passed this week. Without parliament’s backing, she must return to Brussels before 12 April and set out an alternative plan.
After a weekend of lurid reports about ministerial walkouts and ultimatums, the prime minister appeared undaunted as she addressed the House of Commons on Monday, after telling her cabinet she still hoped her deal could win support.