Senior UK minister Amber Rudd calls for free vote on Brexit amendments

Pressure on Theresa May as pensions secretary refuses to rule out resignation

One of Theresa May's most senior ministers has called for Conservative MPs to be given a free vote next Tuesday on amendments designed to rule out a no-deal Brexit. Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd suggested she could resign from the government if she is not allowed to vote for the amendments.

"At the moment there is a lot of change going on. I have called for a free vote for the amendments on Tuesday, and we'll see what position the government takes," she told BBC's Newsnight in an interview to be broadcast on Thursday night.

The government is expected to whip against an amendment tabled by Labour's Yvette Cooper that would oblige it to delay Brexit rather than leave the EU without a deal. Asked if she would quit if she was not allowed to vote for such an amendment, Ms Rudd declined to rule it out.

“I’m going to stick to trying to persuade the government to allow it to be a free vote. There is a lot taking place and there are a lot of new amendments. We’ll have to wait and see,” she said.


Alternative options

MPs will vote next Tuesday on a motion “in neutral terms” acknowledging a statement by the prime minister on Brexit. Unusually for such a motion, they can table amendments proposing alternative options for Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn suggested on Thursday that Labour was likely to support Ms Cooper's amendment, although he said the party would decide closer to the time.

“We will decide at the time whether we fully support it or not. I had a very good meeting, a very useful meeting, with Yvette Cooper yesterday. I understand what she is saying, there is a lot of merit in it. We, as a party, will make a decision,” he said.

Ms Cooper's amendment envisages an extension of the article 50 negotiating deadline until December 31st, but Labour's shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer has suggested that a three-month extension to the end of June would be preferable.

Have to choose

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday that MPs would have to choose an option for Brexit if they wanted to avoid leaving the EU without a deal.

“What we have now is a double majority against the deal on the one hand and against the no deal on the other. But we need something that is positively accepted as an agreement,” he told a German radio station.

“In order to avoid this difficulty of leaving without an agreement, this no-deal, it is not enough to vote against the no-deal. No, you have to vote for a contract, an agreement.

“If nothing moves, if no positive suggestions are put on the table, then we will be heading for a more or less bumpy or accidental no-deal on March 30th”.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times