Richard Harrington, Alistair Burt and Steve Brine resign: Three ministers quit over Brexit indicative votes

Theresa May has been dealt a huge blow as three ministers stepped down to vote against the government on the handling of the Brexit process.

Pro-EU business minister Richard Harrington, Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt and Health minister Steve Brine all resigned amid key votes on Monday night, a Government source confirmed.

News of their resignations came as MPs began voting on amendments in the Commons, including one tabled by Sir Oliver Letwin in a bid to force a series of indicative votes.

MPs approved the cross-party Letwin amendment which allows Parliament to seize control of the Commons agenda to hold a series of indicative votes by 329 votes to 302, a majority of 27.

Mr Harrington said the government’s approach to Brexit was “playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people”.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Harrington said resigning “has not been an easy decision” and says he continues to be “very supportive of the government’s policy of securing an agreement with the EU”.

However, he added: “At this critical moment in our country’s history, I regret that the government’s approach to Brexit is playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country who are employed by or otherwise depend on businesses for their livelihood. 

“Further, as the UK’s Industry Minister, the clear message I have been receiving from the business community is that the failure to secure a deal and to rule out a hard Brexit is resulting in cancelled investment decisions, business being placed abroad, and a sense of ridicule for British business across the world.”

Resignation: Richard Harrington has quit as business minister (PA Archive/PA Images)

He said that in the event of a no-deal scenario, there would be “widespread and long-standing implications for everyone”.

“The economy may take five to 10 years to adjust to the new reality, during which time jobs would be lost and livelihoods ruined,” Mr Harrington continued.

“I fear that no deal would be part of a giant economic experiment that is championed by a small minority of the economics profession, a small minority of the Conservative Party and a small minority of the country.”

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer called the Government’s defeat over the Letwin amendment “humiliating”.

Following the vote, Sir Keir tweeted: “Another humiliating defeat for a Prime Minister who has lost complete control of her party, her Cabinet and of the Brexit process.

“Parliament has fought back – and now has the chance to decide what happens next.”

The result is another humiliation for Mrs May. She earlier warned MPs not to “overturn the balance of our democratic institutions,” which means the Government normally controls business of the House.

Brexit: The key moments

The PM earlier made clear she would not feel bound by the result of any indicative votes – which could include a “softer” Norway-style deal, or a second referendum.

“No Government could give a blank cheque to commit to an outcome without knowing what it is,” she said.

“So I cannot commit the Government to delivering the outcome of any votes held by this House. But I do commit to engaging constructively with this process.”


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