Tory MPs from both sides of the Brexit divide have united to warn against a plan to hold a snap general election as a way to end the political impasse paralysing Westminster.
Parliament will today vote on a series of indicative options, with many expecting some form of customs union perhaps confirmed by a second referendum to secure a majority.
What happens then, however, is unclear, with the UK set to crash out of the EU without a deal on 12 April unless a new Brexit deadline can be agreed before then with EU leaders.
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Theresa May has indicated she could bring her withdrawal agreement back for the fourth time on Tuesday in a final head to head with the softer Brexit option favoured by MPs.
If the prime minister’s deal is defeated again she would then be under immense pressure to change course and pursue a customs union.
The Sun reports that “senior ministers are bitterly divided over the way forward - with Mrs May facing a mass walkout of either Leavers or Remainers depending on the path she chooses”.
Brexiteer cabinet ministers are believed to have told May they would resign if she accepted a customs union or got Tory MPs to vote for the UK to take part in European elections in May.
More than half her Commons party, 170 MPs and ministers, have now signed a letter telling the prime minister to pursue a no-deal departure from the EU rather than accept a soft Brexit.
However, this would prompt the walkout of “at least six cabinet ministers from the party’s remain wing”, says The Sunday Times.
“May’s problem is simple” says Politico: “whichever way she turns could split the Tory party, precipitating a collapse in the government and an election”.
The paper reports that some senior advisors around the prime minister, including her spin doctor, Robbie Gibb, are pushing for her to call a general election if her deal fails again.
The prime minister hinted she could call a snap vote in a bid to end the Brexit impasse when addressing MPs on Friday. However, the idea has been met with almost unanimous opposition from Tory MPs who agree it would be disastrous for Theresa May to lead them into another campaign with Brexit still undecided.
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “I don’t see how a general election particularly solves this issue” adding “a few changes to the composition of House of Commons doesn’t solve the problem”.
Conservative party deputy chairman James Cleverly insisted the party was not gearing up a snap general election but admitted it was doing some “sensible and pragmatic” planning.
Brexiteers see an election “as an attempt by May to cling to power”, The Sunday Times says, but they fear it could backfire with the paper reporting that dozens of Tory association chairmen are writing to Conservative campaign headquarters warning the Tories would face an electoral “wipeout”.
It comes after a new poll from the Mail on Sunday-Deltapoll found public support for Labour has jumped to 41%, five points clear of the Tories on 36%.
If repeated at an election, Labour would be on course to win 307 seats, while the Conservatives would claim just 264. While still short of an absolute majority it would leave Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in pole position to agree a deal with the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) to put him over the line and hand him the keys to Downing Street.
“It is clear that the country is as divided as the Commons over a way through the Brexit quagmire, with the public evenly split on options such as pursuing a No Deal, holding a second referendum or cancelling Brexit altogether”, says the Mail on Sunday.
Deltapoll’s Joe Twyman said: “Theresa May has threatened the rebel MPs in her party with a general election if they do not finally come around and support her Brexit deal. These results, however, show just what a kamikaze risk that may be.”
“Choosing to call an election when so far behind in the polls could be seen as the bravest or worst decision ever made by a British prime minister in modern times,” he added.
Also warning against another election, former Tory prime minister John Major instead called for a “time limited” national unity government to be formed.
"I think it would be in the national interest to have a cross-party government so we can take decisions without the chaos that we're seeing in Parliament at the moment where every possible alternative is rejected,” he said.
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