PM withdraws bid to send Parliament home early for summer

PM withdraws bid to send MPs home early for their summer holidays after her ministers and backbenchers hit out at the ‘idiotic’ ploy to quell the Tory Brexit civil war

  • Theresa May is battling to keep her warring government together on Brexit plans
  • Government had proposed Parliament closing for summer early to quell turmoil
  • But they quietly dropped the plans after sparking fury from MPs and ministers 

Theresa May today climbed down form her bid to send MPs home early for their summer holidays after facing a storm of criticism.

The Prime Minister wanted to deploy the extraordinary tactic as she battles to stave off a Brexit meltdown and threats to her leadership.

But her Cabinet ministers and Tory backbenchers had lashed the plan – branding it ‘idiotic’ and warning that it will go down like a lead balloon with voters. 

The controversial motion was quietly withdrawn by the frontbench in the House of Commons tonight after the PM narrowly avoided a defeat on her Brexit plans.

Tory bosses hit upon the idea of calling the summer recess early so MPs could escape the pressure cooker atmosphere of Westminster for the sunlounges.

But they U-turned after a  slew of Labour and Tory MPs vowed to oppose the early finish.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid is understood to have raised the issue ‘forcefully’ at Cabinet this morning and urged a rethink. 

Conservative former minister Sir Nicholas Soames – the grandson of Sir Winston Churchill – described the motion as ‘idiotic’, while other senior figures condemned it as ‘wrong’ and ‘preposterous’.

The Prime Minister is meeting her Cabinet as she tries to stave off another existential challenge to her strategy for leaving the EU in the Commons. Tory bosses had planned to send MPs home early for summer as they desperately tried to protect her leadership

The Prime Minister is meeting her Cabinet as she tries to stave off another existential challenge to her strategy for leaving the EU in the Commons. Tory bosses had planned to send MPs home early for summer as they desperately tried to protect her leadership

Mrs May met her Cabinet this morning after suffering humiliation overnight when she was forced to swallow Brexiteer amendments to the Customs Bill that threaten to fatally damage her controversial Chequers plan.

But having made the concessions, pro-EU Tories were so enraged that they staged an ambush with Labour that came within a whisker of defeating the government.  

Theresa May sees off Tory Remainer revolt with election threat  

The amendment - which failed by just six votes - ordered ministers to seek a customs union with the EU if they have not got a free trade deal by January 21

The amendment – which failed by just six votes – ordered ministers to seek a customs union with the EU if they have not got a free trade deal by January 21

Theresa May saw off a Tory Remainer rebellion in the Commons tonight after party bosses warned MPs that defeat would trigger another General Election. 

Furious Tory Remainers rebelled to back an amendment to force the Prime Minister to try to keep the UK in a customs union with the European Union after Brexit.

But their revolt failed by just six votes after four Labour MPs switched sides to help get the PM over the line – seeing the rebellion fail by 307 votes to 301.

Tory Party whips piled the pressure on wavering backbenchers by warning them a defeat would trigger a confidence vote in Mrs May and another election.

The Tory Remainer revolt came just 24 hours after Mrs May caved in to hardline Tory Eurosceptics to back an amendment which critics says effectively kills off her compromise Brexit Chequers plan.  

The Labour MPs who defied their party whips to vote with the Government were Frank Field, Kate Hoey, John Mann and Graham Stringer – all ardent Brexiteers.

Kelvin Hopkins, who was a Labour MP but is sitting as an independent as he is investigate for alleged sexual harassment, also backed the PM on the crunch vote. 

The Trade Bill was later passed by 317 votes to 286.

But while the PM squeaked home on the customs amendment, she suffered a defeat on a separate amendment which calls for the UK to stay in the European medicines regulatory network, losing by 305 to 301. 

Defence minister Guto Bebb became the latest casualty of the Conservative civil war as he quit to join the protests against Eurosceptic influence. 

With panic spreading over Mrs May’s prospects of survival, the government has proposed parliament breaks up on Thursday, rather than next Tuesday, in a desperate attempt to ease the chaos.

If the proposal was passed, there would only be 15 sitting days left in the Commons before a crunch EU summit in October where a Brexit deal is supposed to be struck. 

The move sparked disbelief from MPs across parties, with senior Tory George Freeman among those who immediately vowed to vote against.

Fellow Conservative Nick Boles said: ‘There could hardly be a worse time for Parliament to vote to start recess early. 

‘The government is wrong to propose it and I urge MPs of all parties and convictions to oppose the motion later today.’ 

Senior Labour backbencher Chris Bryant said the plan was ‘preposterous’. 

A senior Labour source said: ‘With the NHS in crisis, the Tory’s Brexit negotiations descending into farce and local councils on the brink, the last thing Theresa May should be trying to do is send her MPs on holiday early to try and escape them bringing her down. 

‘We’ll be voting against her latest desperate move.’ 

A Downing Street spokesman said: ‘The Government came forward with this proposal following discussion with other parties.

‘We are considering all the representations which have been received.’

The spokesman insisted 19 pieces of legislation had been considered so far in this session and the proposal came about because there is no ‘substantive’ business left before the recess.

Senior government sources told MailOnline the episode was ‘damaging’ – but blamed Labour for initially agreeing to the plan before reneging.  

Ministers made the embarrassing climbdown by withdrawing the proposal rather than be defeated in the House.

They announced the move after Mrs May narrowly saw off a Tory Remainer revolt on her Brexit plans. 

The government quietly backed down over the controversial plan,  which they withdrew in the House of Commons tonight

The government quietly backed down over the controversial plan,  which they withdrew in the House of Commons tonight

Labour's Chris Bryant and Tories Nick Boles and George Freeman were among those who pledged to vote against the early finish for the Commons

Labour’s Chris Bryant and Tories Nick Boles and George Freeman were among those who pledged to vote against the early finish for the Commons

Tory tabled an amendment designed to force the UK to stay in the customs union unless Mrs May can secure a free trade deal with the EU.

But their revolt failed by just six votes after four Labour MPs switched sides to help get the PM over the line – seeing the rebellion fail by 307 votes to 301.

Tory Party whips piled the pressure on wavering backbenchers by warning them a defeat would trigger a confidence vote in Mrs May and another election.

The Tory Remainer revolt came just 24 hours after Mrs May caved in to hardline Tory Eurosceptics to back an amendment which critics says effectively kills off her compromise Brexit Chequers plan.  

How could Theresa May be ousted as Tory leader?

Theresa May faces a mortal threat to her leadership of the Conservative Party and Government. 

A Tory leadership contest can be called in one of two ways – if Mrs May resigns or if MPs force and win a vote of no confidence in her.

Calling votes of no confidence is the responsibility of the chairman of the 1922 Committee, which includes all backbench Tory MPs.

Chairman Graham Brady is obliged to call a vote if 15 per cent of Tory MPs write to him calling for one – currently 48 MPs. 

The process is secret and only Mr Brady knows how many letters he has received.

The procedure was last used in 2003 when Iain Duncan Smith was ousted as Tory leader.

If Mrs May is ousted, any MP is eligible to stand.

Conservative MPs will then hold a series of ballots to whittle the list of contenders down to two, with the last place candidate dropping out in each round. 

The final two candidates are then offered to the Tory membership at large for an election. 

The Labour MPs who defied their party whips to vote with the Government were Frank Field, Kate Hoey, John Mann and Graham Stringer – all ardent Brexiteers.

Kelvin Hopkins, who was a Labour MP but is sitting as an independent as he is investigate for alleged sexual harassment, also backed the PM on the crunch vote.  

Meanwhile, pro-EU Conservatives have been stepped up their campaign by floating the idea of a second referendum, as the Brexit ‘endgame’ starts to take shape.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox dismissed the idea of a national vote today, asking if there would need to be ‘best of three’.

‘What if we have a referendum and it goes the other way? Do we have best of three?’ 

He also tried to play down the Tory turmoil, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there was no problem with accepting the Brexiteer amendments.

‘The wording of the amendment yesterday was very close to the wording in the Government’s White Paper,’ he said. 

‘It looked in fact as a bit of a cut and paste from the White Paper.’ 

Dr Fox said he wanted to see a ‘people’s Brexit’, adding: ‘We can’t please everybody. ‘We have to have a compromise position that enables the country to get an agreement with the European Union. 

‘Here in Britain there is far too much negative, self-doubting pessimism in this process.’

Dr Fox also insisted there was no issue with bringing forward recess as the government would still be working.

‘Well, of course, you have to draw the distinction between parliament and government, because government doesn’t stop over the recess.’  

The PM’s climbdown on the Customs Bill came despite warnings the measure from Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group undermined the draft Brexit deal agreed at Chequers earlier this month.

The amendment insisted that the UK can only collect taxes on behalf of a foreign state if they agree to collect duties for Britain – something the EU is unlikely to agree.

The concession increases the sense that the walls are closing on Mrs May and the chances of a ‘no deal’ Brexit are rising – as she now has even less room to manoeuvre in negotiations with the EU.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt

Health Secretary Matt Hancock

Mrs May held a Cabinet meeting today with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Health Secretary Matt Hancock among those attending

Treasury Secretary Liz Truss was among the ministers at the Cabinet meeting this morning

Treasury Secretary Liz Truss was among the ministers at the Cabinet meeting this morning

Her former Brexit Secretary David Davis made his first intervention since his sensational resignation last night, speaking up for the rebel amendments Mrs May has been forced to adopt.

Both Eurosceptics and Remainers have been dismissing her Chequers plan as ‘dead’ as she faces massive pressure from each Tory faction to change tack.  

Pro-Europe Tory rebel Heidi Allen suggested she and other Remain supporters had been prepared to drop their own proposed amendments to the Chequers deal before ‘extreme last-minute manoeuvres from the ERG’. 

She told Today: ‘What was agreed at Chequers wasn’t perfect to us, wasn’t perfect to Leavers either, but the PM has worked exceptionally hard to find a decent first pitch to put the EU and to move forward from that. 

‘We were all set to drop all our amendments and back it and then suddenly we had these rather extreme last-minute manoeuvres from the ERG which seemed to us to deviate the Prime Minister from her plan and we weren’t prepared to let them do that – or at least try.’ 

Trade Secretary Liam Fox denied the government's plans were 'dead'

Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt was at the Cabinet meeting this morning

Trade Secretary Liam Fox, left, denied the government’s plans were ‘dead’. Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt was at the Cabinet meeting this morning

So what would happen if we just walked away? 

MONEY

Leaving without a deal would mean an immediate Brexit on March 29 after tearing up a 21-month transition agreement. This included giving £39billion to the EU, which ministers would no longer have to pay, a House of Lords report claims.

GOODS TRADE

The Chequers agreement effectively proposed keeping Britain in the single market for goods and agriculture to preserve ‘frictionless’ trade and protect the economy.

Customs checks on cross-Channel freight would cause havoc at ports, hitting food supplies and other goods.

Even Brexiteers admit to a big economic impact in the short term. Britain could waive customs checks on EU produce to free up backlogs, but would Brussels do the same?

TARIFFS

All EU-UK trade in goods is free of tariffs in the single market.

Trade would revert to World Trade Organisation rules. The EU would charge import tariffs averaging 2-3 per cent on goods, but up to 60 per cent for some agricultural produce, damaging UK exporters.

We have a trade deficit with the EU of £71billion – they sell us more than we sell them – so the EU overall would lose out.

German cars and French agriculture would be worst hit, as would UK regions with large export industries. Tariffs could also mean price inflation. But UK trade with the EU is 13 per cent of GDP and falling compared to non-EU trade, which generates a surplus and is likely to grow. The outlook would be boosted by Britain’s ability to strike trade deals.

IMMIGRATION

The UK would immediately have control over its borders and freedom to set migration policy on all EU migrants.

UK nationals would likely lose their right to live and work in the EU. There would be legal uncertainty for the 1.3million Britons living in the EU and the 3.7million EU nationals here.

CITY OF LONDON

Many firms have already made contingency plans for no deal, but there would probably be a significant degree of disruption and an economic hit.

Ministers would be likely to take an axe to tax and regulations to preserve the UK’s economic advantage.

AEROPLANES

Fears of planes not being able to fly appear far-fetched – unless the EU is determined to destroy both business and tourism. Rules to keep planes in the air are likely to be agreed. The EU has many deals with non-EU countries as part of its Open Skies regime.

EUROPEAN COURTS

Britain would be free from the edicts of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg and all EU laws. Parliament would be sovereign.

FARMING & FISHING

THE UK would quit the Common Agricultural Policy, which gives farmers and landowners £3billion in subsidies. Ministers would come under pressure to continue a form of subsidy.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Northern Ireland would be outside the EU, with no arrangements on how to manage 300 crossing points on the 310-mile border.

The EU would want Ireland to impose customs and other checks to protect the bloc’s border – something it has said it will not do. No deal could blow a hole in the Good Friday Agreement, with pressure on all sides to find a compromise.

 

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