PM may have to accept soft Brexit if Commons backs it, says minister

Theresa May will have to consider the possibility of accepting a softer Brexit if the measure is supported by parliament this week, the justice secretary, David Gauke, has said.

With 12 days before the UK is due to leave the EU, and parliament plunged into a political stalemate, Gauke, a soft-Brexit supporter, said the prime minister would have to “look very closely” if MPs back a customs union in a fresh round of indicative votes that begin on Monday.

“I think she would need to look very closely at that,” he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.

“If parliament is voting overwhelmingly against leaving the European Union without a deal but is voting in favour of a softer Brexit, then I don’t think it’s sustainable to ignore parliament’s position and therefore leave without a deal.”

May’s grip on power looks increasingly fragile, with cabinet ministers openly preparing for a leadership challenge after she steps down.

She hopes to bring back her Brexit deal to parliament again this week after it was rejected for a third time by MPs – and appears poised to trigger a general election if parliament fails to agree a way forward that she would then lead.

Gauke said he could not remain a member of the government if it tried to leave with no deal, but said May had made clear that was something she would not do.

“My position is that it is not the responsible thing for a government to do, to leave without a deal in these circumstances, so obviously I wouldn’t be able to remain a member of the government that pursued that as a policy. That is a point I have made on a number of occasions,” he said.

“The prime minister has been very clear that when parliament is making it clear what it wants to do, she is not going to go down that route.”

Senior Tories have warned that May should not be allowed to lead the party into a snap election. But James Cleverly, the deputy chair of the Conservative party, told Sophy Ridge on Sky News that May could well do so.

Asked if May could lead the party into a snap election, he said: “That is an inevitable possibility.”

He insisted the party was not specifically preparing for a snap general election to resolve the Brexit deadlock, but acknowledged that “sensible and pragmatic” contingency planning was taking place.

“I don’t think an election would solve anything. Time is of the essence, we have got Brexit to deliver. We don’t want to add any more unnecessary delay,” he said.

Alistair Burt, the veteran foreign office minister who resigned last week over Brexit, warned that the UK’s democracy itself was in danger of collapse.

“We are in peril … we have seen in other countries that if people become so polarised that they don’t listen to the other side that they resort to other methods,” he said.

More than 100 Tory MPs have also signed a letter calling on May to rule out a long extension to Britain’s EU membership, even if that means backing a no-deal Brexit.


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