Brexit Secretary warns of general election if MPs back softer customs union EU plan

Posted On: 
24th March 2019

The likelihood of a general election would increase if MPs order the Government to back a softer Brexit plan this week, Cabinet minister Stephen Barclay has warned.

Stephen Barclay is the Brexit Secretary.

The Brexit Secretary said the consequences would be "so severe constitutionally" if Parliament wants the UK to remain in a customs union with the EU that an election might be the only way to break the deadlock.

A cross-party team of MPs will tomorrow try to force the Government to hold votes on a host of Brexit options - including a version of Mrs May's deal with full custom unions membership and a second referendum - to try and break the current Commons impasse.

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Ministers have already signalled that they will allow space in the Parliamentary calendar this week for a similar exercise if the backbench initiative is defeated - leading Brexiteers to fear that the Government could cave in and allow a softer form of EU exit.

But Mr Barclay told the BBC's Andrew Marr show that backing for a customs union would "potentially collide with fundamental commitments the Government has given in their manifesto".

While he confirmed that the Government could choose to press ahead regardless of the indicative votes, he warned: "One the key issues there is you potentially have Parliament instructing the Government to do something which is directly counter to what it was elected to deliver, counter to what is in its manifesto...

"Ultimately, at its logical conclusion, the risk of a general election increases because you potentially have a situation where parliament is instructing the executive to do something that is counter to what it was elected to do."

The hint that a Commons vote for customs union membership could force the Government to hold an election was immediately welcomed by two Brexiteer backbenchers, however.

Simon Clarke of the European Research Group - the powerful group of backbench Brexit-supporting Tories - said an election would be "the constitutionally correct position".

"And better that, surely, than our being reduced to the transmission mechanism for policies that are not our own - and which fly in the face of the promises on which we were elected," he added.

Steve Baker, the deputy chair of the ERG backed that as a "sound and brave" position.

Meanwhile, health minister Jackie Doyle-Pryce said an election would be "inevitable" if Parliament ordered the Government to ignore its own manifesto, as she urged her Tory colleagues to back Theresa May's deal twice-defeated deal instead.

Elsewhere, Iain Duncan Smith, who has voted against Mrs May's EU pact, hinted he could get behind the Prime Minister to try and kill of the Parliamentary bid to seize control of the agenda.

He said: "I'm going to keep, and I would recommend my colleagues...keep, their options open on this. Because we don't know what's happening this week."