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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 26 March 2019

Brexit: A third of the cabinet could walk over no-deal, says rebel MP

Key May ally Philip Hammond refused to rule out leaving the government if Britain headed towards a no-deal

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has lowered UK forecast. Reuters
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has lowered UK forecast. Reuters

Britain’s embattled prime minister Theresa May could lose a third of her Cabinet if she leads the nation towards a no-deal Brexit, according to a former Conservative MP who quit the party to join the newly formed Independent Group.

Sarah Wollaston left the Conservative Party on Wednesday with fellow Pro-EU colleagues Heidi Allen and Anna Soubry in protest at the prime minister’s handling of the Brexit process, joining eight ex-Labour MPs in the new political party.

The three former Conservatives said they no longer knew what the party stood for and accused Mrs May of pandering to MPs from the pro-Brexit European Research Group, who support a no-deal Brexit.

Dr Wollaston warned on Thursday that more of her former colleagues could leave if Britain crashing out of the EU without an agreement on March 29 became the most likely scenario.

"I know that there are many colleagues on my side who will be watching carefully and expecting Theresa May to be certain that she is not going to take us out on a no-deal Brexit," she told the BBC.

"Certainly I think that a third of the Cabinet, I'm pretty clear, would walk if they were looking at a no-deal Brexit."

Meanwhile Chancellor Philip Hammond, a key May ally who supported Remain in the 2016 EU referendum, failed to dispel speculation that he would join his fellow pro-EU MPs in the Independent Group.

When asked directly by the BBC on Thursday if he would leave the government in the event of a no-deal, he responded: "All I am going to say to you is I always do what I believe is in the best interest of the country."

He later said it was “definitely not" in the best interests of the country to leave without a deal.

Mrs May travelled to Brussels on Wednesday to press for “legally binding changes” on the contentious backstop policy of the Brexit withdrawal agreement. The prime minister wants guarantees that the backstop will only be temporary.

Mr Hammond said Mrs May’s talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had been “good and constructive”. He said parliamentarians could be able to vote on a revised Brexit deal as soon as next week.

Mrs May has promised to give parliamentarians an opportunity to decide what to do on February 27 if she cannot get a revised deal from the EU.

If she is unable to get the guarantees from Brussels, then Mrs May will have to decide whether to press for an extension of Article 50 — delaying Brexit — or risk crashing out with a no-deal.

British tabloid The Sun reported that some senior ministers had warned the prime minister that she must delay Brexit if she fails to get a deal or face wide-scale rebellion.

Updated: February 25, 2019 06:45 PM

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