ANALYSIS: A split Cabinet adds to Theresa May's Brexit woes

Posted On: 
15th January 2019

Theresa May does not have her troubles to seek at the moment.

Theresa May is braced for a heavy defeat in the Commons.
PA Images

She is just a few hours away from having the Brexit deal she has devoted the past two and a half years to negotiating comprehensively rejected by MPs.

Her strategy, such as it is, appears to be to keep returning to the Commons with slightly amended versions of her plan in the hope that eventually the Commons will vote it through.

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The Prime Minister was given little comfort at this morning's Cabinet that her colleagues are united behind her approach. In fact, it only served to further underline the deep split within her top team.

May's senior colleagues are divided on what happens when she loses tonight.

In the moderate corner - the likes of Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark - believe she must reach out to centrist Labour MPs and try to win them over to her cause by offering permanent membership of the customs union.

But that is rejected by Brexiteers - born-again or otherwise - like Jeremy Hunt, Liz Truss, Sajid Javid and Brandon Lewis, who say that the Prime Minister should instead demand further concessions from the EU on the Irish backstop in order to gain the support of Tory eurosceptics and the DUP.

"There are people who don't like the idea of relying on Labour votes to get it through," one source told PoliticsHome. "They're thinking she can just go to the EU and get our side back on board. But they don't seem to realise is that the point of engaging with Labour MPs is to get support for the PM's deal, which we're supposed to be supporting."

Rudd, meanwhile, called on the Government to take no-deal off the table, arguing that Parliament is going to do it anyway and therefore the Cabinet should get ahead of the game. This view did not carry the room, however, thanks to Brexiteer opposition.

"Amber said we should try to seize the initiative and be proactive," said a source. "But there was pushback from the usual suspects."

The Cabinet was united, however, in opposition to the behaviour of John Bercow, who angered the Government last week by ripping up parliamentary precedent and allowing a business motion to be amended by MPs.

One Cabinet minister suggested the Speaker's antics could persuade more Tories to eventually swing behind the PM's deal in fear that he could conspire with Remain-backing MPs to call a halt to the entire process.

"I do think enough colleagues have been spooked by Bercow and are worried that Brexit could actually be stopped," they said.

May has to return to the Commons with her Plan B by Monday night, with another vote expected later that week. And no matter how gloomy her prospects, she has no intention of voluntarily leaving Number 10.

"She's not going to step down, that was very clear at Cabinet," said one minister. "Even the pretenders to the throne don't want it vacated at the moment."