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Brexit deal vote: Theresa May urged to cancel make-or-break vote on new Withdrawal Agreement Bill

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 22/05/2019 JOE MURPHY, NIcholas Cecil

Watch: May announces plan to give MPs chance to vote on second referendum (Reuters)

Theresa May’s leadership appeared to be in collapse today as Cabinet member Michael Gove refused to confirm a Commons vote on the Brexit package she unveiled yesterday and Tory MPs stepped up calls for her to resign.

Cabinet sources said ministers were urging the Prime Minister to cancel plans to stage a make-or-break Commons vote on her new Withdrawal Agreement Bill in the week starting June 3.

At the same time, a new attempt was launched at the 1922 Committee to change the party’s rules to allow backbench MPs to sack the Prime Minister once the results of tomorrow’s European Parliament elections — expected to be a disaster — have been counted.

a group of people standing in front of a car © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited But more worryingly for the PM, demands for her to go were spreading beyond the regular critics to a range of mainstream MPs. Her first defeat could be on the timing of the Withdrawal Bill, which is due to be voted on after the Whitsun recess.

Mr Gove appeared to slam on the brakes by calling for “a period of reflection” adding: “I think it is important for all of us just to take a step back and consider what the options are.”

a man wearing a suit and tie: Michael Gove refused to confirm a Commons vote on the Brexit package (BBC) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Michael Gove refused to confirm a Commons vote on the Brexit package (BBC)

Asked by the Today programme’s Mishal Husain specifically, “Are we definitely going to have a vote in the week of June 3 on this Bill?” he replied: “I think we will reflect over the course of the next few days on how people look at the proposition that has been put forward.”

He added: “I think that, rather than saying anything precipitate, I think everyone should take an opportunity to reflect on what the PM will say later today and look at the Bill.”

No 10 sources warned against reading Mr Gove’s reply as signalling a retreat from a vote. But some Tories thought Mr Gove was suggesting the vote should be delayed until a new leader could bring it before the Commons.

Moreover, Cabinet sources indicated that some other ministers were worried that the vote would be lost if it goes ahead under Mrs May, leaving her successor with the added problem of having to stage a Queen’s Speech before such a Bill could be returned to the House. A new push by Tory MPs to remove Mrs May from office was building up steam.

a man smiling for the camera: image © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited image Nigel Evans, an executive member of the 1922 Committee, was planning to ask for a ballot of backbenchers on whether the rules should be changed — which would be seen as a vote of confidence in Mrs May.

He told the Standard: “Her 10-point plan on Brexit was like 10 more nails in our European election coffin. The mood in the party is beyond belief.”

Bob Blackman, a member of the 1922 executive, told The Standard: “Clearly continuing in this current situation is not feasible.

“There is no point in having a vote on something that we end up with a catastrophic defeat. After the European elections, we will have to see what the position is about the Prime Minister’s future.”

Gallery: Leave vs Remain - Brexit reveals a divided UK (Photos)

Mark Francois, the vice-chair of the European Research Group, said: “Theresa May ‘s big bold offer was dead on arrival at St Thomas’s hospital. It has totally bombed with colleagues. We are now in the end game and the sooner she resigns the better.”

Culture committee chairman Damian Collins, a moderate, said: “I think we have to recognise that the support is not there to allow the withdrawal Bill to pass and that this process has failed.

“It is time to move on and allow a wider debate on how this should be resolved before we leave the EU at the end of October.” Mrs May’s chances of an escape looked bleak as Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer branded her “too weak to deliver” a Brexit deal, and her DUP ally Sammy Wilson ruled out backing her Bill, on the grounds that “we will not vote for our own destruction”.

Tory grandee Sir Oliver Heald said it was “worthwhile” putting the Withdrawal Bill to a vote but warned that if it is rejected then the Prime Minister “would have no choice but to go quickly”.

Mrs May has less than 24 hours to decide whether to push on or retreat because the vote is due to be confirmed in tomorrow’s Commons business statement.

European election results are due Sunday night. A new poll today predicted disaster for both Labour and the Conservatives. YouGov had the Tories in fifth place on a humiliating seven per cent, with Labour in third place behind the Lib Dems on 13. Nigel Farage was ahead on 38 per cent.

Asked if Mrs May would still be Prime Minister next Tuesday, Mr Gove said: “I think the Prime Minister will be Prime Minister next Tuesday, yes.”

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