Parliament last night failed once again to back an alternative Brexit plan, just 11 days before the UK is set to leave the EU.
None of the options voted on by MPs secured a Commons majority, although a call for the UK to remain in the EU’s custom union lost by just three votes.
Tory MP Nick Boles, the architect of another rejected plan – to keep the UK in the EU’s Single Market, dubbed Common Market 2.0 – was so frustrated by the outcome he announced he was quitting the Conservative Party and stormed out of the Commons chamber – applauded by opposition MPs while many Tories begged him to stay.
Speaking after the results were announced, Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay hinted the government would be prepared to bring its three-times defeated withdrawal deal back to MPs for the fourth time. “If the House were to agree a deal this week, it may still be possible to avoid holding European elections,” he said.
Theresa May will today convene a marathon five-hour meeting of her cabinet in a bid to find a way through the Brexit stalemate.
Her top team is split on whether to request a long delay to Brexit from the EU and seek to negotiate a closer relationship with Brussels, or leave the EU without a deal on 12 April.
The Prime Minister would have been under intense pressure to compromise on her red lines – including taking the UK out of the EU’s customs union and Single Market – had MPs backed any of the proposals last night.
Instead, Tory grandee and anti-Brexit MP Ken Clarke’s call for a customs union lost by three votes, Boles’ Single Market plan was defeated by 21, while an attempt to force a referendum on the final agreement went down by 12 votes.
Sterling initially fell from just over $1.309 before the vote to $1.303 following the results, as traders saw the likelihood of a softer Brexit reduce.
Speaking just after the results were announced by speaker John Bercow, an emotional Nick Boles said: “I’ve given everything to an attempt to find a compromise that can take this country out of the European Union while maintaining our economic strength and our political cohesion.
“I accept I have failed. I have failed chiefly because my party refuses to compromise. I regret therefore to announce that I can no longer sit for this party.”
Suggestions of Tory MPs quitting the party had been circulating Westminster for much of yesterday, fuelled by former Brexit minister Steve Baker’s comments in an interview on the BBC’s Politics Live show.
Asked if he would back a motion of no confidence in his own government, tabled by Labour, Baker replied: “At this point, I can see no circumstances while as a Conservative MP, I vote against the government in a confidence motion.
“But we are approaching a point where the stakes are so very high and so transcend party politics and what this country is about, and the fundamental British value that political power rests on consent, that I think these things are coming on to the table.”
Baker, who is deputy chairman of the European Research Group of Conservative MPs, last week decried those in his party who supported the Prime Minister’s deal as “fools and knaves and cowards” who have an “addiction to power.” He even suggested he may “resign the whip”.
If the government did lose a confidence vote, the wheels would be set in motion for a General Election, during which the UK’s EU departure would effectively be suspended.