UK Prime Minister Theresa May faces a fresh Commons battle over Brexit just hours after Tory civil war pushed her customs legislation to the brink.
The Prime Minister was hit by a late night ministerial resignation following a torrid day of Tory divisions when she “caved in” to Eurosceptic demands. Further challenges lay ahead as pro-EU Tory amendments to the Trade Bill go before MPs on Tuesday.
Late on Monday, Mrs May saw off defeat by just three votes on two key changes to the customs bill after a Remainer backlash in the warring party. Defence minister Guto Bebb voted against the Government, effectively quitting his frontbench role.
He is the tenth in a series of MPs, ranging from star names to minor players, to have quit since the Chequers’ agreement on Brexit, though the first Remainer to go. Mrs May had earlier bowed to Brexiteer demands to stem a threatened uprising on the bill. But the string of concessions infuriated Conservative Remainers who refused to back the amendments to the legislation.
Some 14 Tory rebels voted against the Government-backed Tory Eurosceptic clause that would prevent the UK collecting tariffs on behalf of the EU unless it agreed to do the same. An amendment that would stop the UK from joining the EU’s VAT regime saw 11 Conservative rebels. Mrs May inched through with the support of three Labour MPs, Frank Field, Kate Hoey and Graham Stringer, on both.
In bruising Commons exchanges, Remainer Anna Soubry accused Mrs May of “caving in” to Eurosceptics. The Tory former minister told the Commons: “Nobody voted Leave on the basis that somebody with a gold-plated pension and inherited wealth would take their job away from them.”
But as tempers flared, Ms Soubry was told she “ain’t no Margaret Thatcher” by Sir Edward Leigh when she invoked the late premier’s support for free trade. Amid the turmoil, the Government tabled a motion calling for the current parliamentary session to be cut short. MPs will vote on whether to start their summer recess on Thursday instead of next Tuesday.
The move is likely to outrage many members of the public concerned about the divisions over Brexit and the ticking clock counting down to exit day. But an early holiday would stymie Tory MPs plotting against the increasingly politically fragile premier.
Mrs May told MPs the Brexiteer amendments she accepted did not change her Chequers blueprint for Brexit. But Labour MP Stephen Kinnock accused the PM of “capitulating” and said the Chequers deal was now “dead in the water”.
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: “Today we have seen the truly calamitous state of the Tory party, as once again the Prime Minister is forced to concede ground to hold together her unholy alliance of MPs.”