Last-ditch cross-party effort launched to stop no-deal Brexit

Labour MP Yvette Cooper. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

A cross-party group of MPs has launched a bid to force Theresa May to stop no-deal Brexit by tabling a bill requiring her to extend negotiations.

Following the failure of MPs to unite behind an alternative to May's plan last night, the group, including Conservative grandee Sir Oliver Letwin and Labour's Yvette Cooper, aims to pass the bill through the Commons on Thursday.

The move was announced as May and her senior ministers gathered at 10 Downing Street for an extended crisis session of Cabinet to try to break the Brexit deadlock.

Number 10 made clear today that exit without agreement in 10 days' time remains the legal default unless MPs approve a deal.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said a no-deal departure was becoming 'day after day more likely'.

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A leaked letter from cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, obtained by the Daily Mail, showed that the UK's top civil servant has warned of 10% food price hikes, economic recession and disruption to security if Britain crashes out without a deal.

Instead of initiating a third round of indicative votes tomorrow, when Parliament once more has control over the Commons timetable, Letwin will table a paving motion for approval by MPs which would allow debate and votes on Cooper's bill on Thursday.

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The single-clause bill requires the prime minister to table a motion seeking MPs' approval for an extension to the Article 50 process of Brexit talks to a date of her choosing.

The group behind the bill, which also includes former Tory chair Dame Caroline Spelman, Commons Brexit Committee chair Hilary Benn, former attorney general Dominic Grieve and Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, aims to push it through all of its Commons stages on Thursday, and hopes the House of Lords would then grant its approval in time for an emergency EU summit on April 10.

Cooper said: 'We are now in a really dangerous situation with a serious and growing risk of no-deal in 10 days' time.

'The prime minister has a responsibility to prevent that happening.

'She needs to put forward a proposal, including saying how long an extension she thinks we need to sort things out.

'If the government won't act urgently, then Parliament has a responsibility to try to ensure that happens even though we are right up against the deadline.

'Parliament has tried to jam into two days a process of finding consensus that I wish the prime minister had started two years ago.

'But right now nothing has been agreed.

'So that means that whatever happens in the next few days, the UK needs an extension beyond April 12 if we are to avoid the damage and chaos of no-deal.

'For the sake of jobs, public services and our national security we need to avert no-deal.'

Letwin added: 'This is a last-ditch attempt to prevent our country being exposed to the risks inherent in a no-deal exit.

'We realise this is difficult. But it is definitely worth trying.'

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