Theresa May’s government was saved by a handful of Labour Eurosceptics as they joined forces to defeat a vote to keep Britain tied to the EU.
Amid dramatic scenes in the Commons, a dozen Tory Remainers defied warnings they would collapse the Government by siding with Jeremy Corbyn in a bid to preserve the customs union with Brussels.
The rebellion came despite desperate warnings from Tory chief whip Julian Smith that defeat on the issue would prompt him to call a vote of confidence in Mrs May, followed by a possible general election.
Tory insiders said another 10 Eurosceptic MPs would have sent in letters of no confidence in Mrs May if she had lost the vote – potentially pushing the total over the 48 needed to spark a leadership challenge.
Theresa May (pictured in Downing Street today) is looking down the barrel of another Brexit humiliation at the hands of her own MPs
Tory Remainers Nicky Morgan (pictured left in the Commons tonight) and Stephen Hammond (pictured right in the Commons tonight) brought forward an amendment to for the UK to try to seek a customs union with the EU if she cannot do a deal by January that guarantees frictionless trade, but it failed by six votes
An amendment being voted on in the Commons tonight would order ministers to seek a customs union with the EU if they have not got a free trade deal by January 21
‘Had we not won we would have been looking at even more letters,’ one said.
Rebels inflicted an early defeat on the Government when they voted to keep Britain tied into the European Medicines Agency after Brexit by 305 votes to 301.
But, minutes later, the tables were reversed as MPs voted by 307 to 301 to reject an amendment to the Trade Bill that would have forced the Prime Minister to pursue a customs union with the EU – something she has ruled out repeatedly, including in last year’s Tory manifesto.
The move is a major boost for Mrs May in her negotiations with Brussels, which had been repeatedly assured by Remainers that there was a majority in Parliament to keep Britain in the customs union.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Health Secretary Matt Hancock were also at the meeting
Treasury Secretary Liz Truss was among the ministers arriving for Cabinet this morning
Trade Secretary Liam Fox, left, denied the government’s plans were ‘dead’. Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt was at the Cabinet meeting this morning
May climbs down over ‘idiotic’ bid to send MPs home early for summer
Theresa May today climbed down form her bid to send MPs home early for their summer holidays after facing a storm of criticism.
The Prime Minister wanted to deploy the extraordinary tactic as she battles to stave off a Brexit meltdown and threats to her leadership.
But her Cabinet ministers and Tory backbenchers had lashed the plan – branding it ‘idiotic’ and warning that it will go down like a lead balloon with voters.
The controversial motion was quietly withdrawn by the frontbench in the House of Commons tonight after the PM narrowly avoided a defeat on her Brexit plans.
Tory bosses hit upon the idea of calling the summer recess early so MPs could escape the pressure cooker atmosphere of Westminster for the sunlounges.
But they U-turned after a slew of Labour and Tory MPs vowed to oppose the early finish.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid is understood to have raised the issue ‘forcefully’ at Cabinet this morning and urged a rethink.
Conservative former minister Sir Nicholas Soames – the grandson of Sir Winston Churchill – described the motion as ‘idiotic’, while other senior figures condemned it as ‘wrong’ and ‘preposterous’.
Reacting to the narrow win, one No 10 insider said simply: ‘Thank f*** for that.’
Analysis of the voting record later showed that five Labour MPs voted with the Government: former ministers Frank Field and Kate Hoey and backbenchers John Mann, Graham Stringer and Kelvin Hopkins, who is currently sitting as an independent following suspension. If they had voted the other way, the Government would have lost by four votes.
Tory MP Nadine Dorries said: ‘If Labour rebels hadn’t stepped in tonight, our own 12 Remain rebels would have lost us that vote. Third reading of the Trade Bill would have been pulled, a confidence vote called tomorrow. If that was lost, a general election. That’s how dangerous a game the Conservative Remainers are playing.’
Victory for Mrs May came as Downing Street braced itself for a possible resignation speech by Boris Johnson this afternoon, in which he is expected to cr