Theresa May suffered another humiliating defeat at the hands of Tory Remain rebels tonight as they won a ‘shutdown’ vote and promised more revolts against no deal.
In a defiant show of rebel strength, 20 Tories voted for an amendment to the Finance Bill tabled by Labour’s Yvette Cooper to tie the Treasury’s hands in a no deal Brexit – with the Government losing 303 to 296.
And the rebels warned the PM the alliance with Labour will ‘sustain itself’ and promised ‘we will not allow a no deal exist to occur at the end of March’.
Downing Street played down the impact of the amendment, insisting it was ‘inconvenient’ but would not actually stop the Treasury collecting taxes.
More dangerous for the Prime Minister is the successful alliance between pro-Remain MPs on her benches and the Opposition. Together they could cause chaos for the Government in the coming months on a series of issues.
Tory veteran Sir Oliver Letwin warned Mrs May: ‘The majority tonight that is expressed in this House will sustain itself. We will not allow a no deal exit to occur at the end of March.’
Meanwhile, Michael Gove today likened hardline Eurosceptics to ‘mid-50s swingers’ waiting for actress Scarlett Johannson to turn up at a party.
The extraordinary barb from the Environment Secretary came as Cabinet met to discuss the prospects of Theresa May’s Brexit deal getting through the Commons next week.
Theresa May (pictured at Downing Street today) faces another embarrassing defeat in the Commons tonight as Tory Remain rebels are set to join forces with Labour over the Budget
Downing Street has moved to play down the impact of the amendment, tabled by Labour’s Yvette Cooper (left in the Commons today) and Tory Nicky Morgan (right), as expectation of defeat rises
Tory veteran Sir Oliver Letwin (pictured in the Commons tonight) warned Mrs May: ‘The majority tonight that is expressed in this House will sustain itself. We will not allow a no deal exit to occur at the end of March’
What does the rebel amendment do?
The rebel amendment passed tonight will restrict the Government’s freedom to make Brexit-related tax changes after a no deal without parliamentary safeguards.
The move does not prevent the Government from collecting tax at all.
But it will place restrictions on its ability to make minor changes to tax legislation – such as replacing ‘EEA’ with ‘UK’.
To get back its full powers the Government would have to win a Commons vote in support of no deal – something for which there is probably no majority among MPs.
Theresa May’s spokesman insisted that, while ‘not desirable’, the impact on no-deal preparations would be ‘inconvenience, rather than anything more significant’.
The backbench amendment to the Finance Bill, which would remove the Treasury’s special spending powers, is backed by a number of pro-Remain Tories, including ex-ministers Sir Oliver Letwin and Nick Boles and health committee chairman Sarah Wollaston.
Downing Street vowed to oppose the amendment, insisting it was not ‘desirable’ – but told rebels even if they win it would ‘inconvenient rather than anything more significant’.
Moving her amendment, Ms Cooper said: ‘This is too serious for us to play a massive game of Brexit chicken. The country cannot afford to wait to see who blinks first.
‘So I hope ministers, as has been rumoured, will accept this amendment and I hope they will accept the principle behind it that either the Government should get agreement on a deal before March 29, or get explicit agreement to no deal before March 29.
‘Or if that fails, commit to seeking an extension to Article 50 so there is time to sort things out.’
Who were the 20 Tory rebels tonight?
Twenty Tory MPs voted for Labour MP Yvette Cooper’s amendment to the Budget tonight. They were:
Heidi Allen, South Cambridgeshire
Guto Bebb, Aberconwy
Richard Benyon, Newbury
Nick Boles, Grantham and Stamford
Ken Clarke, Rushcliffe
Jonathan Djanogly, Huntingdon
Sir Michael Fallon, Sevenoaks
Justine Greening, Putney
Dominic Grieve, Beaconsfield
Sam Gyimah, Easy Surrey
Philip Lee, Bracknell
Sir Oliver Letwin, West Dorset
Nicky Morgan, Loughborough
Bob Neill, Bromley and Chislehurst
Antoinette Sandbach, Eddisbury
Sir Nick Soames, Mid Sussex
Anna Soubry, Broxtowe
Ed Vaizey, Wantage
Sarah Wollaston, Totnes
She added that although the amendment does not solve the problems of Brexit, ‘it gives us the opportunity to rule out the worst way forward and to do so in a way that is calm, measured and sensible’.
Sources close to Jeremy Corbyn suggested Labour would back the move, raising the prospect of a Government defeat in a vote this afternoon.
Supporters of the move claim it is the first step in an attempt to force a ‘shutdown’ should ministers try to pursue No Deal.
But Treasury sources last night said the impact of the amendment would be largely symbolic – and suggested ministers could even accept it rather than suffer another Commons defeat.
A source said: ‘We are pretty relaxed about it.
‘It would stop us doing some little things to make the tax system work better, but it would be a minor thing compared to the overall consequences of leaving without a deal.’
The Liberal Democrats have tabled a further amendment today which would prevent the Treasury collecting taxes in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but it appears to lack the support needed to succeed.
However, senior Tories remain concerned they could face a series of Parliamentary ambushes in the coming weeks if a no-deal Brexit becomes Government policy.
Business minister Richard Harrington (pictured last night leaving Downing Street) backed the package the PM has thrashed out with Brussels – but said he would ‘definitely’ resign to prevent the UK crashing out without any agreement
Mr Harrington last night told the BBC he would ‘definitely’ resign from the Government to oppose a no-deal Brexit.
Irish PM offers more ‘assurances’ on backstop in May’s Brexit deal
Irish PM Leo Varadkar today insisted the EU does not want to ‘trap’ the UK as he held out the prospect of more ‘assurances’ on the Brexit deal.
Mr Varadkar sounded a conciliatory note as he made clear the bloc will give written commitments that the Irish border backstop would only be temporary.
But other EU ministers have insisted the guarantees, expected before the crunch Commons vote next week, will only be ‘political’ rather than legally binding as Theresa May had hoped.
Attending a summit in Dublin, France’s Nathalie Loiseau said: ‘There is nothing more we can do.’
Mr Boles has indicated that he and others could resign the Tory whip and vote with Labour to prevent No Deal.
And Mrs May will today meet with representatives from a cross-party group of more than 200 MPs who have called on her to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
Miss Cooper claimed there was a danger that ‘brinkmanship, political paralysis, siren voices’ could lead the UK over a Brexit ‘cliff-edge’.
She added: ‘The risks to our economy and security from no deal are far too high and it would be irresponsible to allow it to happen.
‘I do not believe Parliament would support No Deal and ministers should rule it out now.’
But Boris Johnson yesterday claimed that a no-deal Brexit was ‘closest to what people voted for’.
He added: ‘They didn’t vote for anything like Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. They voted to come out.’
At Cabinet today, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd warned that history would take a ‘dim view’ if the government allowed the UK to leave with no deal, saying the country would be less safe.
Ms Rudd insisted politicians had to accept the world ‘as we find it, not as we wish it to be’.
Parliament was the scene of continued protests over the referendum result today (pictured)
Michael Gove (left) likened hardline Eurosceptics to ‘mid-50s swingers’ waiting for actress Scarlett Johannson (right) to turn up at a party
And Ms Rudd was backed by Mr Gove who compared Brexiteers who are refusing the accept the Withdrawal Agreement – such as Jacob Rees-Mogg – to over-picky swingers who were waiting for the perfect partner to arrive at a party.
Radio adverts warning Brits to prepare for a no deal Brexit are aired
Adverts warning the public to prepare themselves for a no deal Brexit have today begun being aired on radio amid mounting fears the UK will crash out of the bloc.
The Government has paid for the emergency ads to be aired as part of their last tranche of no deal planning signed off by senior ministers late last month.
The ads, which are being aired on commercial radio stations across the UK, comes amid fears warring MPs will not agree a Brexit deal before March 29.
Theresa May’s Brexit plan has been basted by Brexiteers and Remainers and is widely expected to be rejected by MPs when at the crunch Commons vote on January 15.
In the radio advert, a railway station-style announcement sounds, before people ask a series of questions about Brexit over a tannoy.
The voice asks a series of questions, stating: ‘Will my travel be affected when we leave the EU? What about documents for driving? Will mobile roaming change? Should I check my travel insurance?’
A voice-over then says: ‘You might also have questions about how leaving the EU on the 29th March will affect you. Find guidance and up to dateinformation on gov.uk/EUexit’
Responding to Mr Gove’s reference to the Holywood actress, Ms Rudd quipped that some MPs might be waiting for Pierce Brosnan.
Justice Secretary David Gauke, who has condemned wishful thinking by Brexiteers, waded in to say that Labour seemed to be holding out for Scarlett Johannson ‘on a unicorn’.
Jeremy Corbyn has said he wants the UK to be in a customs union but able to strike trade deals elsewhere – something Brussels has flatly rejected.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid is also said to have spoken negatively about the consequences of no-deal, suggesting the government’s ability to tackle illegal immigration might be reduced.
Business Secretary Greg Clark told MPs in the House today that no deal ‘should not be contemplated’.
As the PM wooed Tory MPs in Downing Street last night, business minister Richard Harrington made clear he will resign if the government backs no-deal after Mrs May’s plan is defeated.
Several Cabinet members, including Mr Gauke, have also signalled they would quit – while some Conservatives have insisted they would vote no-confidence in the government to avoid a chaotic departure.
Meanwhile, senior Tory Dominic Grieve and Labour’s Chris Bryant are thought to be mulling a joint effort to force the date of Brexit vote forward.
They could try to table an amendment to the government’s scheduling plan that would mean the showdown happening on Thursday rather than next Tuesday.
Ministers want to hold another five days of debate starting tomorrow before the vote takes place.