Theresa May has angered Tory and DUP MPs by “taking no deal off the table” at a time when she desperately needs them to pass her Brexit deal.
She was accused by one Tory ex-minister of “the most shameful surrender by a British leader since Singapore in 1942” after she suggested a no-deal Brexit was now impossible because MPs would block it.
Brexiteer MP Crispin Blunt made the comparison with the British surrender to Japan – an event Winston Churchill dubbed the “largest capitulation” in the country’s history.
In a statement to the Commons, the prime minister said that “unless this House agrees to it, no deal will not happen”, pointing out that MPs had voted twice already to reject that outcome.
Her comments appeared designed to win over Tory eurosceptics by forcing them to choose between her deal, no Brexit or a “slow Brexit” with a long delay to Article 50.
But instead she appeared to spark fury from the people she most needs, as Blunt warned her that it had actually “put the final torpedo” into her Brexit deal by angering Tory MPs.
The Reigate MP said: “Does the prime minister understand that by taking no deal off the table at the behest of this Remainer parliament she has just put the final torpedo into her own deal and any real prospect of Brexit?
“And that her statement will represent the most shameful surrender by a British leader since Singapore in 1942?”
May replied: “Can I simply say that what I said in my statement was that this House has voted twice to reject no deal and may very well continue to vote to reject no deal and may very well, as a House, attempt to ensure that no deal cannot take place.
“As the SNP have already indicated they will be moving a vote to revoke Article 50 to reverse the whole result of the referendum.
“The reality is that this House has shown its intention to do everything it can to take no deal off the table and we all need to recognise that if we’re going to deliver on Brexit then we need to recognise that situation.”
A Downing Street spokesman later said: “The point the PM was making is that the House has voted against no deal, and will take every opportunity to prevent no deal.”
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds meanwhile was furious at May’s suggestion that Britain might have to impose a form of direct rule on Northern Ireland in a no-deal Brexit because the province’s civil service does not have the powers it needs to govern in that scenario and there is currently no devolved government.
He accused the PM of failing to prepare and using it as a poor excuse for delaying Brexit.
He said: “The Prime Minister has known for some considerable time, and so has the House, that 29th March was the target date, so why hasn’t appropriate preparations been made? Why do we need another two weeks? What’s going to happen in another two weeks that couldn’t have happened up till now? This is a fundamental lack of preparation and the government’s entirely responsible for that, if that’s the case.”
The MP also asked why May ever agreed to the controversial Irish backstop that “bedevils her agreement” when Irish PM Leo Varadkar and other highly senior EU figures have said there will be no border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
May replied: “The legal position is a different one in relation to the necessity to be able to have certain checks taking place and the EU has been clear that EU law would need to be applied in all of these circumstances.”
Meanwhile, Jacob Rees-Mogg told a meeting of the Tory Brexiteer European Research Group (ERG) he chairs that he was ready to back May’s deal if the DUP swung behind it.
One MP however said the ERG was split 50-50 on backing May’s deal.
“Some of us are trying to make them see sense - if we don’t vote for Brexit now we won’t get it,” another said.
Another MP present however said he thought it was unlikely and that DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson attended the meeting and “explained in really clear terms why they couldn’t support it” because it would separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Asked if the ERG was split 50/50, they said: “I think it’s more the other way.”