The extent of Conservative dissatisfaction with Theresa May for requesting a further delay to Brexit was brought to the fore after most of her MPs, including four cabinet ministers, refused to vote in favour of requesting a further extension of article 50.
Highlighting the prime minister’s dwindling authority, nearly 100 Tory MPs voted against May’s decision to ask for a three-month extension with another 80 abstaining. Some of her most high-profile cabinet colleagues including Andrea Leadsom and Geoffrey Cox did not vote on the tabled motion to extend article 50 until 30 June.
May only won the vote after securing support from Labour and other opposition parties with only 31% of her backing coming from her own party.
Despite today’s vote underlining the intense divisions within the Tory Party, the prime minister will proceed with her request for a delay until 30 June at an EU summit on 10 April, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the EU27 will force her to accept a far longer extension of up to a year.
Analysis by Oliver Murphy – Editor
Despite securing a narrow victory for an extension of article 50, today’s vote was a major defeat for a prime minister desperately trying to hold not only her beloved party together but her own cabinet.
With her previous withdrawal deal being defeated last week, May is charting troubled water as she attempts to unite both her government and the country behind her.
Indeed, pro-Brexit MPs have translated today’s major party rebellion as evidence that she does not have the backing of her party to pursue a soft Brexit that involves a customs union. Even then, she will ultimately wield no parliamentary majority for that if only 100 Labour and other opposition MPs push for a confirmatory referendum.
Despite the non-existence of cabinet discipline, ministers are unlikely to resign as they will ultimately fear the potential of being replaced by pro-remain ministers at this crucial time.
While Parliament and the executive continue to be consumed by the Brexit deadlock, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: May’s future. Indeed, how can the prime minister realistically continue having previously promised not to extend article 50 beyond 30 June? And now, as May loses the support of most of her party, reaching out to Labour and becoming increasingly divorced from the cabinet, the question remains: how long can she last?