Brexit minister says Tory MPs could get free vote on alternatives if they vote down Theresa May's EU deal again
Tory MPs could be given a free vote on alternatives to Theresa May’s Brexit plan if they fail to back her deal at the next attempt, a minister has suggested.
Brexit minister Kwasi Kwarteng said it would be “surprising” if party bosses tried to compel MPs to vote in a particular way if they once again reject the Prime Minister’s EU agreement.
And he refused to rule out Government support for a cross-party attempt to give MPs a say over the Brexit process - saying ministers “would have to look at alternatives” if the Commons votes down the Prime Minister’s deal.
MPs from across the political divide have launched a fresh attempt to set aside Commons business next Wednesday for a series of so-called “indicative votes” if the House rejects the PM's deal a third time.
The bid to seize control of the Brexit process is being led by Conservative grandee Sir Oliver Letwin, and also has the backing of leading Remain-supporter Dominic Grieve, plus top Labour MPs Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper.
Tory MP Vicky Ford pressed Mr Kwarteng on the proposal in the Commons on Friday morning.
"I know that many members of this House want to deliver on the referendum in an orderly manner and I will support the withdrawal agreement when it comes back to the House as the best way to do that,” she said.
“But if it does not go through and then there are indicative votes, will they be free votes so that everybody outside this chamber can truly see that we are acting in a way to try and find the best way forward though the circumstances are difficult?"
Responding for the Government, Mr Kwarteng said: "Obviously if the House is being asked to decide a way forward it would be surprising if those votes were not free votes.
“But again, she will understand... that that ultimate decision is a matter for the [government] business managers and will be taken as and when the debate will take place."
Brexit committee chair Hilary Benn – who has long been pushing for indicative votes on a host of outcomes including a no-deal Brexit, a Norway-style softer Brexit and a second referendum – meanwhile urged the Government to actively back the cross-party bid to stop Britain continuing “to hurtle towards the edge of a cliff”.
Mr Kwarteng – who repeatedly refused to name a date for any third vote on Mrs May’s deal – said the Government’s focus was on securing “the deal on the table”.
But he said: “We want to pass the meaningful vote and then we want to introduce the Withdrawal Bill. Now if the meaningful vote doesn't get through we will have to look at alternatives."
Sky News on Friday cited a senior minister who said plans were being drawn up to allow indicative votes to go ahead and "find a solution" to the Commons deadlock.
According to the broadcaster, MPs could be asked to vote on revoking Article 50, holding a second referendum, backing Mrs May's deal, backing her deal plus customs union membership and single market access, a free-trade agreement, or a no-deal departure from the EU.
Pressed on the story, a government source pointed to earlier comments by Theresa May's de facto deputy David Lidington, who said on March 14 that if Mrs May's vote again fell again, the Government "would facilitate a process in the two weeks after the March European council to allow the house to seek a majority on the way forward".
But Conservative Brexiteer Mark Francois heaped scorn on the idea of MPs being given a free hand on a batch of EU options.
"I've been an MP for 18 years and I've never seen a shambles like this in all my life," he said.
The report came just hours after Brussels handed Mrs May a Brexit lifeline by offering a brief extension to the UK’s scheduled exit from the bloc.
After marathon talks, EU leaders agreed to delay Brexit up to the 22 May – but only if MPs back Mrs May’s deal.
If the blueprint is rejected for a third time, Britain will have until 12 April to set out its plans or leave without a deal.