A senior Government minister has urged MPs across Parliament to work together to prevent the “disaster” of a no-deal Brexit.
Business Secretary Greg Clark said that after the Government suffered two Commons defeats over its Brexit plans in the space of 24 hours, it was clear that there was no majority for leaving the EU without an agreement.
As MPs prepared to embark on the second day of the resumed debate on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, Mr Clark said he would support a series of “indicative votes” to establish what sort of agreement could command a majority in the House.
“It is my strong view that we need to come together. We need to act to avoid a no-deal because I don’t think there is anything remotely like a majority in Parliament that will tolerate this,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
His call came as Nick Timothy – who was formerly one of Mrs May’s closest advisers – said that he did not believe the Prime Minister would “willingly” allow a no-deal Brexit.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he said: “No 10 is trying to give the impression that no deal remains possible but, after many years of knowing the Prime Minister, I do not believe that she would willingly take Britain out of the EU without a deal.”
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn confirmed that the March 29 date of Brexit could be delayed if Labour manages to force a general election
He said an incoming Labour administration would need “time” to renegotiate the withdrawal deal with Brussels.
In a speech in Wakefield, the Labour leader said defeat for Mrs May’s deal next Tuesday would signal the failure of her leadership and of the Conservatives as a party of Government.
He urged MPs from across to House to back the motion of no confidence in the Government which Labour would table “at the moment we judge it to have the best chance of success”.
Asked if he agreed with shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer that an extension to the two-year Article 50 process may now be “inevitable”, Mr Corbyn said: “An extension would be a possibility because clearly there would have to be time to negotiate.”
Mr Clark’s intervention comes amid a widespread expectation at Westminster that the Government is heading for a defeat in Tuesday’s crunch vote on the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with Brussels.
In the Commons on Wednesday, the Prime Minister refused a call from Mr Corbyn to take the prospect of a no-deal break off the table.
However, with no apparent majority for any of the mooted alternatives to Mrs May’s plan, Mr Clark warned there was a danger the country could “fall into” a no-deal unless MPs came together to agree a way forward.
“The default is in law that unless we have a deal, then we will fall into no-deal,” he said.
“What Parliament needs to do is recognise that we need to put differences aside and establish agreement on a deal. It is something that has to involve the whole of Parliament.”
He suggested there could be a series of “indicative votes” on the various alternative proposals which had been discussed to see if any could command a majority.
Some ministers believe that such an approach could see Mrs May’s plan – or something close to it – emerge as the only viable way forward.
Mr Clark said: “I have said in public and in discussions that to establish what Parliament wants and what Parliament supports can be a useful step.
“You need, it seems to me, to move from Parliament being just a scrutineer, but to be active participants and that means discovering Parliament’s mind.”
Mr Clark is widely seen, along with Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, as one of the senior ministers most strongly opposed to a no-deal.
Asked if he would resign rather than see a no-deal, he said: “I would always work and fight to make sure that the policy of the Government is to have a good deal, to avoid what I think would be a disaster which would be no-deal.”
Number 10 confirmed ministers would “consider very seriously” moves by Labour MPs to safeguard workers’ rights after Brexit in an attempt to win support for her deal, if the backbench amendment is selected by the Speaker.
The amendment would keep EU rules on pay and conditions, health and safety issues, plus environmental standards.
John Mann, one of the Labour MPs behind the amendment, said Government backing for the proposal could make the Prime Minister’s plan “more attractive”.
“If we have a guarantee that works on workers’ rights and conditions, that’s significant,” he told the Daily Mirror.
But Mr Corbyn said Labour did not “endorse or accept” the initiative, backing union leaders including the TUC’s Frances O’Grady, who said the amendment “makes no change to a bad deal for working people’s jobs and rights”.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon told the Today programme: “When it comes to the crunch I don’t trust the Conservatives on workers’ rights.
“Even the noises that are being made in the press by the Conservatives don’t mean any such agreement would be legally binding when it comes to protecting workers’ rights.”