Theresa May fails to reach Brexit breakthrough at Chequers summit
British PM organises high-stakes meeting amid reports of cabinet coup attempt
Speculation has intensified over the future of British prime minister Theresa May. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
British prime minister Theresa May’s prospects of getting her Brexit deal through parliament this week dramatically receded on Sunday night after a high-stakes summit with Boris Johnson and other leading Brexiteers at her country retreat broke up without agreement.
Tories present said that the prime minister repeated “all the same lines” about her deal and that nothing new emerged during the three-hour meeting, where Jacob Rees-Mogg, Iain Duncan Smith and Dominic Raab were also in attendance.
The talks took place amid reports of an imminent cabinet coup to remove the prime minister – claims which were forcefully denied by cabinet members Michael Gove, David Lidington and Philip Hammond. But before a critical cabinet meeting on Monday morning, Mrs May remained in a perilous position, with no breakthrough and Downing Street only able to tell reporters that she had discussed “whether there is sufficient support” to hold another meaningful vote this week on her deal.
With MPs due to vote on Monday night on whether to take control of the parliamentary agenda and hold a series of indicative votes on the next steps to take on Brexit, the prime minister is now at risk of losing control of the Brexit process.
Her chancellor, Philip Hammond, has admitted the prime minister’s Brexit deal may still not be able to get through the House of Commons at the third time of asking.
The chancellor told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that Conservative colleagues were “very frustrated” and “desperate to find a way forward” following reports that he and other colleagues were plotting to force her out.
However, Mr Hammond said talking about pushing Mrs May out was “frankly self-indulgent at this time” and that changing prime minister would not “solve the problem”, but he refused to be drawn on whether his colleagues had approached him asking him to make an intervention.
The chancellor said: “I’m realistic that we may not be able to get a majority for the prime minister’s deal, and if that is the case then parliament will have to decide not just what it’s against, but what it is for.”
It had been reported a group in the cabinet wanted to replace Mrs May with her de-facto deputy, Mr Lidington, who would serve as an acting prime minister to try and resolve the Brexit crisis.
But Mr Hammond, described as part of that group by the Sunday Times, said the report was not accurate. “That’s not right at all. My position is that this isn’t about individuals: this is about how we move forward.”
Mr Lidington said on Sunday he did not think he had any wish to take her job. “One thing that working closely with the prime minister does is cure you completely of any lingering shred of ambition to want to do that task,” he said.
As well as Mr Hammond, Greg Clark, the business secretary; Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, and the justice secretary, David Gauke, were named as plotters. But other reports suggested that the environment secretary, Michael Gove, was also willing to take over as a caretaker leader and had the backing of some Brexit supporters.
However, Mr Gove said later on Sunday that he “absolutely” supports the prime minister, adding: “It’s not the time to change the captain of the ship.”
“I think this is a time for cool heads. But we absolutely do need to focus on the task at hand, and that’s making sure that we get the maximum possible support for the prime minister and her deal,” he told the BBC.
Iain Duncan Smith, a prominent Brexiteer on the backbenches, said the idea of a cabinet coup “would be unacceptable to my colleagues” and accused cabinet members of breaching collective responsibility by briefing against Mrs May.
But he also made clear that he did not want the prime minister to remain in office in the long-term.
Mr Hammond said parliament would be given the chance to hold indicative votes on alternatives to Mrs May’s Brexit deal this week, including on cancelling Brexit by revoking article 50, a no-deal exit on World Trade Organisation terms, remaining in the customs union and remaining in the customs union and close to the single market.
The chancellor refused to rule out a second referendum, saying it was a “perfectly coherent position”.
On Saturday, about one million people were said by organisers to have joined a march on parliament in London demanding a final say for the public over Brexit.
Marchers waving EU flags and carrying their placards emblazoned with political messages weaved their way from Hyde Park Corner to Parliament Square.
After another turbulent week for Mrs May that saw her come under fire for delaying Brexit and seeking to blame MPs for the impasse, the Commons was expected to be given the third chance to vote on her withdrawal agreement this week.
But on Friday night Mrs May wrote to parliamentarians warning if there is insufficient support for her withdrawal agreement in the coming days she could seek an extension to the UK’s EU membership beyond the European Parliament elections. – Guardian, PA