Cabinet splits erupt as top minister claims no-deal Brexit better than staying in EU

Posted On: 
18th January 2019

Theresa May is battling to contain a growing Cabinet split over Brexit after a top minister claimed a no-deal Brexit would be better than staying in the European Union.

Theresa May is struggling to hold her Cabinet together.
PA Images

The Prime Minister is holding talks with more than half of her top team today as she continues her efforts to find a deal which Parliament can support.

But her efforts to present a united front were blown off course by International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, who said the UK should not be afraid of leaving the EU without an agreement.

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She also appeared to cast doubt on whether Mrs May's claim that "no deal is better than a bad deal" is believed in Brussels.

Responding to a large section of the audience in last night's Question Time programme cheering calls for a no-deal Brexit, Ms Mordaunt tweeted: "They might have judged that the upsides of leaving outweigh the downsides of staying/No Deal disruption; it’s only when than a bad deal” is believed by the EU that we’ll maximise our chance of a deal. Not honouring the result of the referendum would be appalling."

However, in a sign of the deep schism within the Cabinet over Brexit, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd retweeted CBI boss Carolyn Fairbairn's warnings about a no-deal Brexit with the comment: "Worth remembering."

That was then retweeted by Justice Secretary David Gauke.

But a spokeswoman for Mrs May insisted the Cabinet was united and added: "The Prime Minister has always said that this country’s best days lie ahead and her focus is on leaving the European Union with a deal.”

PoliticsHome reported earlier this week how the Cabinet is split between moderates who believe Mrs May should try to get Labour MPs to back her deal, and Brexiteers who say that will not be necessary and that the EU should be pressured into offering concessions to win over rebel Tories and the DUP.

One plan supported by the likes of Ms Rudd, Mr Gauke and Business Secretary Greg Clark would see the UK agree to stay in a permanent customs union.

But one Cabinet minister told PoliticsHome that whatever option Mrs May chose to break the deadlock, the Tory Party would split.

They said: "There is nothing that won’t (split the party). To her credit the PM has tried to avoid it, but it’s not possible any more."