Nearly 20 ministers 'hatch secret plot' to defy Theresa May and block a no-deal Brexit
Nearly 20 ministers have been secretly plotting in Parliament to prevent a no-deal Brexit, it has been reported.
Five Cabinet members - including Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and Chancellor Philip Hammond are among the 18 names in the group revealed by the Daily Telegraph.
The MPs. who are said to call themselves the “hairshirt club” because they do not have alcohol at the gatherings, meet every fortnight to discuss ways to stop the UK leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation terms on 29 March.
Ms Rudd has already warned Downing Street that around 40 ministers could quit unless the Prime Minister allows Tory MPs a free vote next Tuesday on Yvette Cooper and Nick Boles's amendment calling for an extension to the Article 50 process.
One rebel minister said: “The group is united around opposition to no-deal and doing everything in our power to stop it.
“We are not tied to Cooper and Boles but we are intent on finding a way to stop it and stop it as soon as possible."
Business minister Richard Harrington, a member of the group who has said he will resign if there is a no-dea Brexit, said: “My clear objective is to stop the nonsense of a hard Brexit.
“It may be the way to do that is supporting Cooper/Boles, it may be that someone can suggest a better way of doing it or ideally a way I can do it in co-operation with the Government.”
He added: “I hope the latter is the case but if it's the former so be it. If I have to resign I will. Others will have to say what they think.”
Defence minister Tobias Ellwood, who also attends the meetings, said: “Crashing out with no deal would be a historic act of self-harm, with profound economic, security and reputational consequences for the UK at the very time threats are increasing and diversifying.”
Labour is poised to back the amendment tabled by Ms Cooper, which would allow parliamentary time to pass a delaying law, after leader Jeremy Corbyn met with her last night.
The Telegraph says that allies of the Prime Minister have accepted that if the plan succeeds the Government will not be able to stop it.
But the paper says Mrs May is still working on plans to win support for her Brexit deal in the Commons, and could threaten to withhold some of the £39bn divorce payment to Brussels as a sop to anti-EU Tories.
The plan by Ms Cooper would be to delay Brexit by just three months, shorter than the original idea of a nine-month hold-up, according to the Huffington Post.
But it was dealt a blow yesterday by EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, after he said the EU would not accept a delay unless the Commons was united around a deal.
“There appears to be a majority in the Commons to oppose a no-deal but opposing a no-deal will not stop a no-deal from happening at the end of March”, he said in a speech in Brussels.
“To stop ‘no deal’, a positive majority for another solution will need to emerge.”