Cabinet split erupts as Theresa May admits she wants another delay to Brexit

Posted On: 
2nd April 2019

A major Cabinet split has erupted over Theresa May's decision to request another extension to the Article 50 process, it has emerged.

Cabinet met for seven hours to discuss Brexit.
Credit: 
PA Images

PoliticsHome has learned that 10 members of the Prime Minister's top team were opposed to the move, which would see her ask the EU next week to postpone the current 12 April departure date.

However, under the rules of collective responsibility they must either back the policy or quit their jobs.

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Reports that as many as 14 members of the Cabinet were opposed to a further delay to Brexit were dismissed by one minister as "spin" from Gavin Williamson, Liz Truss and Andrea Leadsom.

Another source said: "It's total bollocks - there are no votes at Cabinet. That is simply not how it works."

Cabinet met for a marathon seven hours to discuss how to break the Brexit deadlock, with the Prime Minister emerging to call on Jeremy Corbyn to meet her to agree a way forward in the interests of "national unity".

She said: "We will need a further extension of Article 50, one that is as short as possible and which ends when we pass a deal. And we need to be clear what such an extension is for - to ensure we leave in a timely and orderly way."

It is understood that four ministers were explicitly against extending, while another six were "unspecific but not pro-extension".

Two Cabinet members were only in favour of a short delay, while a further 15 fully backed the Prime Minister.

"Of the 17 pro-extension, some expressed a preference for a short extension, but none specifically qualified their position by stating that they only supported a short extension," one source said.

PoliticsHome understands that a string Brexit-backing members of the Cabinet lined up to oppose the Prime Minister's strategy.

However, one source said Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Environment Secretary Michael Gove "changed the weather" in the meeting by backing Mrs May.

It has also emerged that Chancellor Philip Hammond confronted Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, after she demanded to see an economic assessment of the consequences of staying in the EU after all.

"Philip absolutely tore strips off her," a source said.

Asked to describe the mood in the meeting, one minister told PoliticsHome: "Resigned to the fact we are in the shit and need to find a way out."

In a live televised address after the meeting, the Prime Minister said she wanted to hold urgent talks with Mr Corbyn to agree a soft Brexit deal which they can both present to the Commons in the hope of securing the backing of a majority of MPs.

Downing Street sources later admitted that all options for the UK's future relationship with Brussels - including a permanent customs union, a Norway-style relationship with the bloc or a second referendum - would be on the table in the talks with Mr Corbyn.

And if the pair cannot agree a way forward, the Government will allow the Commons to vote on a series of alternative Brexit plans - and agree to stand by whatever is agreed.

Mrs May said: "This is a difficult time for everyone. Passions are running high on all sides of the argument. But we can and must find the compromises that will deliver what the British people voted for.

"This is a decisive moment in the story of these islands and it requires national unity to deliver the national interest."

Mr Corbyn has agreed to take part in the talks. He said: "We need to have a discussion with the Prime Minister, we need to ensure that Parliament has an opportunity to vote on proposals which can prevent us crashing out of the EU in the end of next week and we also need to ensure that we give security and certainty to the people of this country that there will not be a crshing out at the end of this process.

"We’ve put forward our proposals, which are to ensure there is a customs union with the European Union, that there is access to those markets and above all there is protections of our standards of consumer, environmental and of course workers’ rights and we’ll ensure that those are there on the table."