MPs are set to vote on whether to keep Britain in the EU longer than planned after Theresa May’s authority over Brexit sustained another major blow.
The vote on extending Article 50 comes after MPs defied the government and dramatically decided to rule out a no-deal withdrawal from the EU amid chaotic scenes.
Business secretary Greg Clark, who was one of four Cabinet ministers who did not take part in the vote, signalled he had not resigned over the matter because he and colleagues believe they acted in line with government policy.
After the defeat, May made it clear that she intends to put a third ‘meaningful vote’ on her Brexit deal to the Commons within days.
Following the Commons move on no deal, the government put down a motion for debate today that offers to seek a one-off extension of Article 50, delaying the scheduled Brexit date of March 29 to June 30 if MPs approve the deal negotiated with the EU by next Wednesday.
However, the PM warned if the deal – which has already been twice rejected by overwhelming majorities – is not approved, a longer extension will be needed, requiring Britain to take part in the European Parliament elections in May.
‘I do not think that would be the right outcome,’ the prime minister said.
‘But the House needs to face up to the consequences of the decisions it has taken.’
The business secretary, who along with Cabinet colleagues David Mundell, Amber Rudd and David Gauke, and Claire Perry who attends Cabinet, did not vote on the key motion, defended the move.
Clark told ITV’s Peston: ‘Once that became the only motion there, then for me and my colleagues to vote against the last chance Parliament had to stop us leaving with no deal on March 29 is something we couldn’t do.
‘The whipping was decided very late in the day, not after a collective discussion about it as most policies are.
‘It has been completely consistent with government policy to date that we should not leave on March 29 without a deal.
‘We acted completely in accordance with long-standing government policy.’
Asked if May should be more flexible on Brexit if Labour was, Clark said: ‘I think everyone needs to be flexible.’
Pressed on whether the PM should consider a customs union-based option if there was a cross-party majority for it, Clark said: ‘I think the prime minister and Parliament should promote a sense of Parliament establishing what there is a big majority for.’
Paymaster general Mel Stride said a further meaningful vote would be held by next Wednesday, just ahead of an EU summit in Brussels.
Stride told BBC2’s Newsnight: ‘What the prime minister has made very clear is that the best way forward still remains a deal.
‘And that Parliament will have another opportunity to say yes or no to a deal.’
After the 149-vote rejection of her Withdrawal Agreement on Tuesday, May suffered a second defeat in as many days when MPs backed the cross-party amendment rejecting a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances yesterday.
In a surprise move, the Commons voted 312 to 308 – a majority of four – in favour of the proposal tabled by former Conservative chairman Dame Caroline Spelman.
The vote was later confirmed by a more emphatic 321 votes to 278, overriding a government motion from May that would have rejected no-deal on the scheduled date of March 29 but left it on the table for other times.
Work and pensions minister Sarah Newton quit after defying the whips to vote for the cross-party proposal.
May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy warned the PM had ‘lost her ability to lead her party, her government, and the country’.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: ‘Now the PM is left angrily telling MPs her deal remains the only way to get Britain out of the EU. This is wrong.
‘Parliament is in control. Her deal is dead. And the country is heading for a softer Brexit – or worse, no Brexit at all.’
Labour has tabled an amendment to the motion on Article 50, requiring May to seek an extension to avoid exiting the EU on March 29 without a deal and to ‘provide Parliamentary time for this House to find a majority for a different approach’.
The amendment makes no direct reference to a new referendum.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain today, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the option of another referendum was still on the table, but said the party would be looking for a ‘compromise on the way forward’.
He said: ‘We’re going to have a look at all the different options that people have brought forward – including what some Conservatives have brought forward, including what we’ve brought forward.
‘My view is let’s concentrate on seeing if we can get a compromise through Parliament, because I think we can.’