The Prime Minister summoned Michael Gove, Penny Mordaunt, David Lidington, Chris Grayling and others to Downing Street in her attempt to thrash out a new Brexit plan following the overwhelming Commons rejection of her Withdrawal Agreement earlier this week. But public barbs between ministers with rival visions of Britain’s European future threatened to overshadow her attempt to build a consensus. Downing Street officials also attempted to calm an outbreak of general election speculation after reports of Whitehall preparations for a snap poll.
Three Cabinet ministers were yesterday said to have put their local Conservative Associations on election alert.
Amid the febrile atmosphere Mrs Mordaunt, a Cabinet Brexiteer, broke ranks to publicly speak out in defence of a no-deal Brexit.
Taking to Twitter, the International Development Secretary said: “The upsides of leaving outweigh the downsides of staying.
“It’s only when ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ is believed by the EU that we’ll maximise our chance of a deal.”
She added: “Not honouring the result of the referendum would be appalling.”
Amber Rudd, a member of the pro-Brussels Cabinet faction, hit back by saying it was “worth remembering” that businesses were concerned about a no-deal Brexit.
Mrs May is expected to hold more meetings with MPs at her Chequers country retreat this weekend ahead of a Commons statement on Monday setting out her next steps.
She spoke to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council President Donald Tusk by telephone yesterday afternoon to try to persuade the EU into offering new concessions.
The discussions followed “constructive” conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte on Thursday night.
One Whitehall source said: “Merkel really wants to help. She understands the problems and is trying to find a way through. She will be a key player in what happens next.”
Mrs May met ministers individually and in pairs yesterday to “update” them on the push for a better EU deal.
Tory MPs were last night speculating that a general election could be imminent as an attempt to finally break the Commons impasse over Brexit.
A report yesterday claimed Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill had met other senior civil servants to discuss preparations for a snap poll.
Other sources said three Cabinet ministers and six junior ministers had told their local constituency associations to get ready for an election.
One minister holding a marginal seat in the South of England had already written election leaflets, according to the New Statesman magazine.
Another association in the North East was said to be preparing election literature.
A Downing Street spokeswoman yesterday insisted the Prime Minister had categorically ruled out an election before Brexit.
Asked yesterday if Mrs May is ruling out a snap general election, the spokeswoman said: “Yes”.
But the denial is unlikely to convince many MPs given that Mrs May repeated ruled out an election before calling one in 2017.
The Prime Minister is expected to meet more opposition MPs in her attempt to find a Brexit package that can command a Commons majority.
She met Labour MPs Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper last week. The pair defied an order from their leader Jeremy Corbyn not to join the talks unless she rules out a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Gove and Mr Lidington are also meeting opposition MPs in the cross-party initiative.