UK Conservatives on the brink of imploding over Brexit

London: Senior British Conservatives are warning that the Tories are on the brink of a historic split as Brexiteers and Remainers threaten to torpedo the government if they don't get their way.

Pro-European Union MPs claimed that a third of the cabinet would resign if Prime Minister Theresa May pursues a no-deal Brexit in the face of almost certain defeat over her deal, as they threatened a walkout of backbenchers that would obliterate the gvernment's Commons majority.

British Prime Minister Theresa May could face a no-confidence motion from Labour as early as Wednesday.Credit:PA

The Telegraph understands that several senior ministers are urging  May to open talks with Labour MPs about a compromise involving a permanent customs union if her deal falls by a significant margin on Tuesday.

One senior Tory said: "A growing number of the Cabinet now think the only feasible option is to tack towards a softer Brexit involving a permanent customs union, in order to get a deal through with Labour votes. Amber [Rudd], David [Gauke], Greg Clark and Michael Gove have also made noises along those lines."

Steve Baker, the deputy chairman of the European Research Group of Eurosceptics, warned that the move would risk a split akin to the schism prompted by Robert Peel's repeal of the corn laws. "It's difficult to see how at least some Conservative MPs would not withdraw confidence in the government," he said.

Sir Bernard Jenkin, another senior pro-Leave MP, said if May departed from the March 29 exit date or struck a deal with Labour for a softer Brexit, "I don't know what happens to the Conservative Party."

May has warned MPs that failure to back her plan would be catastrophic for Britain.

A vote leave pro-Brexit demonstrator holds a placard with anti Brexit protesters in the background as they voice their opinions outside the Palace of Westminster, in London.Credit:AP

May looks little closer to securing the support she needs, but she said on Sunday MPs must not let down the people who voted for Brexit.

"Doing so would be a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy," May said.

"So my message to Parliament this weekend is simple: it is time to forget the games and do what is right for our country."

The warnings from all sides of the debate underscore the potential magnitude of Tuesday's vote, amid growing calls for a second referendum or extension of Britain's EU membership beyond March. One Tory MP said: "We're heading towards a brick wall at 100mph and are going to be smashed to smithereens."

On Saturday talking up the prospect of a vote of no confidence if the deal is blocked, John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said: "It's now here before us, we could have a socialist prime minister."

Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn may trigger a no-confidence motion in the government this week.Credit:AP

In the countdown to the vote, backbenchers led by Alex Chalk, a government aide and former barrister, were frantically gathering support for an amendment making approval of the deal conditional on the EU adding a legally binding document to the Withdrawal Agreement that allows the backstop arrangement to finish at the end of 2021 or 2022. They hope the "lifeline" could reduce the scale of defeat on Tuesday and help extract an 11th-hour concession from the EU.

The former ministers behind an attempt last week to curb the Government’s powers in the event of no deal were said to have devised a new "mechanism" that they were confident would allow the Commons to categorically remove the option of walking away.

Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, said MPs must "send a clear message to Brussels that the UK will not be bullied" – by voting down the deal.

On Tuesday morning, Raab will unite with David Davis and Arlene Foster, the leader of Ireland's Democratic Union Party that has so far propped up May's minority government, at a panel event to talk up their alternatives to May's plan.

Sources inside and outside of government said several Cabinet ministers would lead a push as early as this week for a softer Brexit that could draw the support of Labour MPs, if May's deal is defeated by a significant margin.

In the event of Labour triggering a no-confidence motion, it is unlikely that it would win as the DUP has pledged its 10 votes to supporting the government. And May's record suggests that she will soldier on regardless of the magnitude of the margin by which her deal is defeated. Some are predicting she could lose by 200 votes.

A government source said: "If we have a significant defeat people like David and Amber will argue that because of the scale of the defeat no amount of additional assurance from the Commission will get it over the line and, therefore, we should reach across the House and have a permanent customs union.

"But we would also need regulatory alignment to resolve the border problem. The Commission would be likely to say it will only offer those things at a price of freedom of movement. So gradually we would be heading back towards something resembling EU membership."

Separately, one senior pro-Remain figure said: "The only point at which I would resign the whip is that if it became, after the vote, the Prime Minister's stated policy objective to deliver no deal. Then I'm afraid the government would fall. She would lose a third of her cabinet and very, very many colleagues have already said to me that they would resign the whip."

Telegraph, London; Reuters

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