Theresa May has ignited a furious war with her own party as she announced a plan to work with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to deliver a soft Brexit.
Conservative MPs claimed she had “handed control to a man who is not fit to run a whelk stall" as she called for talks with Corbyn to strike a Brexit deal which could finally get through the House of Commons.
Angry members of the European Research Group of Conservative MPs said they were considering quitting the party in protest, as they feel the UK will now sign up to staying in the EU’s custom union.
Speaking after a marathon seven-hour Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minster said if she was unable to reach an agreement with Corbyn, then a range of options will be put to MPs to vote on – with the government acting on which ever plan won the backing of Parliament.
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith told City A.M.: “I fear for Brexit. It’s never going to happen.”
He added: “I am puzzled as to why at this particular moment we have handed control to a man who is not fit to run a whelk stall, let alone a government.
“Jeremy Corbyn is a man who would reduce the United Kingdom to an adjunct of Venezuela.”
May’s cabinet were holed up in Downing Street from 9.30am until around 6.30pm as the Prime Minister tried to find a way through the Brexit stalemate.
Mobile phones were confiscated from ministers as they arrived to avoid any leaking of the discussions throughout the day.
At about 6.15pm, May gave a televised statement in which she set out her plan for “national unity” to stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal on April 12.
She said the UK would ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 process that “ends when we pass a deal” – something she wants to happen before 22 May to avoid taking part in the European Parliament elections.
May said: “Passions are running high on all sides of the argument, but we can and must find the compromises that will deliver what the British people voted for.
“This is a decisive moment in the story of these islands and it requires national unity to deliver the national interest.”
No sooner was the announcement made than leading members of the business community called on Corbyn to agree to the meetings.
“We urge the Leader of the Opposition to work with the Prime Minister to find a solution. Both sides must play ball,” said the Institute of Directors.
Corbyn had no prior knowledge of the offer for talks, and after May’s statement he was asked if he would be prepared to compromise on Labour’s call for the UK to sign up to a customs union with the EU.
“I don’t want to set any limits one way or the other ahead of those meetings,” he replied.
Members of the ERG gathered to watch the statement in a committee room in Parliament, and were taken aback by May’s announcement.
The group’s chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “I think what was announced today was an attempt to overturn the referendum that wanted a clear Brexit, to do a deal with a socialist who doesn’t want Brexit and is not in line with the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitments or the referendum.
“This is all about getting further and further away from the Brexit people voted for. It’s very serious.”
Another Tory MP, Simon Clarke, said May had “de facto surrendered the government of the United Kingdom to the Labour Party.”
When asked if he and others were considering quitting the party, he replied: “That’s a very good question – this is fundamental.”
Remain-supporting MPs also spent the day laying the groundwork to force through legislation that outlawed a no-deal Brexit once and for all.