Cabinet splits erupt as MPs vote to delay Brexit by at least three months
Cabinet splits over Europe erupted once again as eight Cabinet ministers defied Theresa May to vote against delaying Brexit.
Stephen Barclay, Penny Mordaunt, Andrea Leadsom, Liz Truss, Alun Cairns, Gavin Williamson, Chris Grayling and Liam Fox all voted against a motion in the Prime Minister's name seeking an Article 50 extension until 30 June if her deal is passed by MPs by next Wednesday.
A host of junior ministers also voted against the extension, while chief whip Julian Smith was among those who abstained. In all, 188 Tory MPs opposed Mrs May's motion.
But because it was a free vote, none of them will be disciplined by Tory whips. The motion still passed easily, by 412 votes to 202.
A spokesman for Mrs May - who voted in favour of the extension - said: "At the start of the day the Prime Minister said it would be a free vote and a natural consequence of that is that she understands that people will be able to express their view on a contentious matter. She authorised a free vote and that is where it begins and ends."
Asked if the three Cabinet ministers would be expected to back the Government's policy in future, the spokesman said: "That’s how collective responsibility works."
In a separate boost for the Prime Minister, MPs voted 314-312 against an amendment in the name of Labour MP Hilary Benn which would have seen the Commons seize control of the Brexit process.
It would have led to a series of so-called "indicative votes" by MPs on different Brexit options to try to find out if any of them could command a majority.
But after six Brexit-backing Labour MPs defied the party whip to vote against the amendment, Mrs May won with a wafer-thin majority.
The results mean the Prime Minister can now focus on bringing her Brexit deal - which has already been heavily defeated twice in the Commons - back next week in another attempt to get it passed.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on Theresa May to admit that her Brexit deal and leaving the EU without a deal "are simply no longer viable options".
He said: "I reiterate our conviction that a deal can be agreed based on our alternative plan that can command support across the House, and I also reiterate our support for a public vote, not as political point-scoring, but as a realistic option to break the deadlock.
"The whole purpose, Mr Speaker, ought to be to protect communities that are stressed and worried. Those people are worried about the future of their jobs and their industries, our job is to try and meet the concerns of the people who sent us here in the first place."
Business leaders gave the Article 50 extension a cautious welcome.
Josh Hardie, deputy director general of the CBI, said: "After an exasperating few days, Parliament’s rejection of no deal and desire for an extension shows there is still some common sense in Westminster.
“But without a radically new approach, business fears this is simply a stay of execution."