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Brexit delay: How Theresa May caved in to demands of Leave backing ministers over Article 50

The i logo The i 20/03/2019 Nigel Morris
Theresa May sitting in front of a brick building © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd

After testy exchanges during a 90-minute Cabinet discussion on Brexit strategy, ministers were little wiser over how long an extension to Article 50 would be requested by Theresa May.

But the famously inscrutable Prime Minister would have been left in no doubt over the hostility of many of her ministers to the prospect of postponing Brexit by a year or more.

When she announced on Wednesday that she was only asking for a three month extension to Article 50 it was obvious that Cabinet Brexiteers had won the latest skirmish around her top table.

Mrs May faces a continual balancing act in trying to satisfy the rival factions of a party whose profound divisions stretch all the way to the Cabinet.

Tory Europe divide

It is a schism which has haunted Tory leaders for three decades - and shows little sign of being healed in the near future.

It became clear during Tuesday's heated discussions that the likes of Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox and Chris Grayling would resign if Britain remained in the EU after 30 June.

a person standing in front of a door © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd She had little alternative but to conclude that she would have to opt for a short extension.

Her decision would have riled the Cabinet’s three keenest Remainers, Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark, but Tory sources insisted that only a “small number” of ministers wanted to leave open the chance of a longer delay.

Cabinet balance changing

188 Tory MPs, over half the parliamentary party, voted against the motion backing an extension of Article 50

As Brexit has approached, the balance of the Cabinet has subtly shifted away from Europhile ministers.

Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and Gavin Williamson, who all campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum, have adopted increasingly pro-Brexit views - perhaps with an eye on the leadership contest expected this year.

a large brick building © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd Mr Javid even rowed in behind ministers arguing against a lengthy delay.

Andrea Leadsom hints meaningful vote could happend days before the UK leaves the European Union (Photo: AFP/Getty)

The move towards Euroscepticism within Tory ranks - and the preponderance of hard Brexiteers among activists - ensures that Mrs May’s replacement has to burnish their Leave credentials.

Parliamentary maths

Her decision also reflected the arithmetic on her own backbenches.

Last week 188 Tory MPs, well over half the parliamentary party, voted against the Prime Minister's motion backing an extension of Article 50.

The rebels included eight Cabinet ministers, including the Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, who had been making the case for the motion just minutes earlier.

GALLERY: Facts to know about Brexit (Photo Services)

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