A public declaration by Cabinet big beasts Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark to a back a Commons bid this week to delay Brexit if there is no deal – in defiance of No10’s negotiating policy – ignited a fresh civil war at the top of the Government.
Other Brexiteer Cabinet ministers angrily accused the trio – who are joined by a series of other junior ministers – of "astonishing disloyalty” and undermining the PM.
But Mrs May risks fresh fury from hardline Brexiteers today by refusing repeated chances to slap them down.
During questioning from journalists on her plane to Egypt to attend an EU and Arab leaders’ summit, the PM would only say of their insurrection: “What we’ve seen around the Cabinet table, in the party and in the country at large is strong views on the issue of Europe. That’s not a surprise to anybody.
“We have around the Cabinet table a collective desire to leave the European Union with a deal.
“That’s what we and I are working hard for.”
The PM was also forced to admit not enough progress has been made in talks with the EU to toughen up the Irish backstop for MPs to hold a second meaningful vote a new deal this week, as she had planned.
We won’t be bringing a meaningful vote to Parliament this week
Instead, she will ask MPs during another showdown vote on Wednesday to allow her two more weeks of talks, before putting her deal to Parliament by March 12 – an act of high stakes brinkmanship, with Brexit Day following just 16 days later.
The PM added: “We’ve been having positive talks with the EU. My team return to Brussels this week.
“As a result of that, we won’t be bringing a meaningful vote to Parliament this week, but we will ensure that happens by March 12.
“It is still within our grasp to leave the EU with a deal on March 29.”
Mrs May was damning of any Brexit delay, insisting all it does is put off hard decisions.
She insisted: “Often people talk about the extension of Article 50 as if that is something that will solve the issue. But of course it won’t. It defers the point of decision. The comes a point when we need to make that decision”.
But during the grilling on board her RAF plane to the summit venue in Sharm El-Sheikh, Mrs May also three times refused to rule out enforcing an Article 50 extension instead of taking Britain out of the EU without a deal.
The Sun has learned that the PM’s aides asked the three Cabinet ministers not to make their Brexit delay vow, that came in an article for a newspaper on Saturday.
But they refused. Three other lower-ranking ministers have also declared they will vote with the rebels to extend Article 50 on Wednesday – Solicitor General Robert Buckland, Industry Minister Richard Harrington and Veterans Minister Tobias Ellwood.
Another 15 ministers could also join them, along with dozens of Tory MPs, in voting for the Cooper-Letwin amendment to seize control of the Brexit timetable from the Government.
No10 fear certain defeat if they all press ahead with the plan, that will plunge Westminster into a full-blown constitutional crisis.
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