Three cabinet ministers should resign if they carry out their threat to defy the government by voting to delay Brexit to prevent a no-deal, a leading Brexiteer has told Sky News.
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, Justice Secretary David Gauke and Business Secretary Greg Clark wrote they would back an amendment on Wednesday to extend the Article 50 withdrawal process rather than allow the UK to leave the EU without an agreement at the end of next month.
Article 50 is the clause which triggered the UK’s withdrawal from the EU – giving the country two years to negotiate an exit deal. The UK is due to leave on 29 March, and Theresa May has insisted this will go ahead as planned.
Writing in the Daily Mail on Saturday, the three cabinet ministers acknowledged the “extraordinary determination and resilience” of Mrs May in working on the deal to quit the bloc, but said there will not be enough time to bring new legislation to the table before 29 March.
The trio has warned of severe damage to the economy, national security and even the constitutional integrity of the UK in a no-deal scenario.
But Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen told Sky News: “If ministers and cabinet ministers can’t publicly support government policy and vote with it then they should resign.
“The government, and the prime minister, have been very clear that we’re leaving the European Union on the 29th March with or without a deal.
“And it is only that threat of leaving without a deal, as your viewers will be well aware when they’ve negotiated anything, that it’s that walkaway position that’s forcing the European Union to the negotiating table to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement.
“If no deal’s off the table there’s no meaningful renegotiation.”
But defence minister Tobias Ellwood said the statement by the three cabinet ministers reflects a growing tide of opinion among Conservative MPs.
“The penny is dropping, the tide is turning, the dam is breaking,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Choose your metaphor – if there’s no parliamentary agreement soon, more and more colleagues are calling for an Article 50 extension rather than crashing out without a deal.”
A Downing Street source said: “The fact these ministers hold strong views on avoiding no deal is scarcely a secret.
“The PM is working hard to ensure we get a deal with the EU that allows us to deliver on the result of the referendum. That is where the Cabinet’s energy should be focused.”
No-deal Brexit refers to Britain leaving the EU without replacement deals in place, which means Britain will trade on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.
The No. 10 comments come as a gap between the Tory grassroots and Cabinet rebels is widening after members voted to support Mrs May’s Brexit plan to leave the EU on 29 March – with or without a deal.
Tory association chairs of the National Conservative Convention (NCC) – the party’s most senior body of its voluntary wing – voted on Saturday by 72 to 15 to back the prime minister.
But in a show of solidarity with Mrs May, the majority of NCC members, who represent the views of Party members, backed a motion which said anything other than leaving on 29 March would be damaging for democracy and the Tory Party.
The motion said: “Another referendum, a delay beyond the European elections, taking no deal off the table or not leaving at all would betray the 2016 People’s Vote and damage democracy and our party for a generation.”
Backbenchers on Wednesday will get the chance to use a planned amendment by Labour MP Yvette Cooper and Tory MP Oliver Letwin to take up Commons time to force Mrs May to hold a vote by mid-March on whether to leave with no deal or extend Article 50 if negotiations remain deadlocked.
Mr Letwin is understood to be confident he can win the cross-party vote to extend Article 50, which triggered two years of negotiations between the UK and the EU.
A number of Tory MPs are believed to be prepared to lose their jobs so they can support the amendment.
Mrs May has already lost three Tory Remainers – Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry – to the newly-formed cross-party Independent Group over her refusal to give in to those who want an extension or a second referendum.
On Friday the prime minister held talks with two Remainer MPs, Justine Greening and Phillip Lee, who are considering following “the three amigos” if the government backs a no-deal Brexit.
At the NCC in Oxford on Saturday Mrs May, who received a standing ovation from members, said we need to “get on with Brexit” as she spoke of her sadness about her three MPs quitting.
“It hurts when people decide to leave,” a member inside the room told Sky News.
As she addressed members in Oxford, her Labour counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn, told supporters at a rally that he was also “sad” nine of his MPs quit the party last week over the party’s Brexit position and antisemitism within its ranks.
Speaking in former Tory Ms Soubrey’s Nottinghamshire constituency of Broxtowe, he said some of his MPs who quit fought the last election on a Labour manifesto opposed to Conservative austerity, which he said Ms Soubrey supports.
“I’m obviously very sad at some of the things that have happened and very sad at some of the things that have been said,” he said.
“Walking away from our movement achieves nothing. Not understanding where we have come from is a bad mistake.”
He said he refused to change policies which delivered the largest increase in the Labour vote since 1945.
Jewish MP Luciana Berger was one of the first Labour MPs to leave the party last week and form the Independent Group, blaming Mr Corbyn for consistently failing to deal with antisemitism within the party.
Mr Corybn again insisted antisemitism was “unacceptable” in the party.
“When people are racist to each other, then we oppose it in any way whatsoever,” he told the crowd.
“If anyone is racist towards anyone else in our party – wrong. Out of court, out of order, totally and absolutely unacceptable.
“Antisemitism is unacceptable in any form and in any way whatsoever, and anywhere in our society.”