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Amber Rudd warns Theresa May dozens of ministers could quit to back plan to block no-deal

4 min read

Up to 40 ministers could walk out of the Government within days unless Conservative MPs are allowed to vote on a plan that could block a no-deal Brexit, a top Cabinet minister has told Theresa May.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd warned the Prime Minister that mass resignations could follow if Tory MPs are whipped to oppose a cross-party move to postpone Brexit should the Commons fail to get behind a deal.

The push to delay Article 50 to avoid a no-deal Brexit is being spearheaded by senior MPs including Labour's Yvette Cooper and Conservatives Nick Boles, Nicky Morgan and Oliver Letwin.

According to The Times, Ms Rudd has urged the Prime Minister to allow all Conservative MPs to get a free vote on the cross-party amendment, arguing that it could strengthen Mrs May's hand in talks with the EU and avoid a flood of resignations.

"For too long parliamentarians have shouted from the peanut gallery about what they won’t support," a source told the Times.

"Now is the time for them to get on the stage and show what they would support.

"If done properly this could help the prime minister to go to Brussels in a stronger position."

Chief whip Julian Smith will decide at the end of the week whether to give MPs a free vote.

But the demand from Ms Rudd could set the stage for a major showdown with Number 10.

Mrs May told MPs yesterday that those pushing her to "rule out" a no-deal Brexit on March 29 - the default option if the Commons cannot agree on a deal - needed to be be "honest with the British people about what that means".

She said: "The right way to rule out no deal is for the House to approve a deal with the European Union, and that is what the Government are seeking to achieve. The only other guaranteed way to avoid a no-deal Brexit is to revoke article 50, which would mean staying in the EU."

Mrs May also hit out at those seeking to extend Article 50, warning that it was "simply deferring the point of decision".

But a number of ministers have already gone public to say they would resign if a no-deal Brexit became government policy.

Business minister Richard Harrington has branded no-deal an "absolute disaster" and said he would quit, while Justice Secretary David Gauke has he would find it "very difficult" to stay in post if Britain looked set to leave without a deal.

Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood also hinted on Twitter last night that he could support plans to extend Article 50.

Meanwhile, there were signs on Monday night that the Commons push to delay Brexit could be swinging some previously-critical MPs behind Mrs May's deal.

The Prime Minister has vowed to press the EU for fresh changes to the controversial Northern Ireland backstop, which would effectively bind the UK to the EU's customs union indefinitely if no solution can be found to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

That prospect has enraged Eurosceptic Conservatives and the DUP, who Mrs May relies on for her Commons majority.

But longstanding Brexiteer Nadine Dorries told the BBC's Newsnight: "I can feel a growing consensus among a number of MPs who - in the light of being faced with this Europhile, kamikaze MPs who really don't care about their careers going up in flames, who want to overturn parliamentary tradition in order to stop Brexit - I think many people are now realising we would support this deal to get it over the line. Because every day is a dangerous day at the moment."

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