The Work and Pensions Secretary enraged Cabinet Brexiteers by becoming the first senior minister to publicly support a second referendum. Commons Leader Amber Rudd hit back by suggesting a no-deal Brexit was now “plausible”. The latest Cabinet spat followed growing concerns the EU will not provide adequate guarantees that the UK will be trapped in a customs union indefinitely as a result of the so-called “backstop” mechanism for Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister said: “Cabinet ministers and I have all been very clear that we are focusing on ensuring we can get the deal that we’ve agreed with the EU through Parliament in a meaningful vote.
“We are having some further discussions with the EU, we are seeking those greater political and legal assurances in relation to the issue that members of the House of Commons have raised, particularly about the Northern Ireland backstop and particularly ensuring that it cannot be indefinite.
“But everybody is very clear, not only what Government policy is but what we are all individually and collectively focused on.
“That is working to ensure that the deal is able to be agreed by and go through a meaningful vote in the House of Commons.”
Mrs May’s intervention followed Ms Rudd’s outburst in a television interview on Wednesday night.
She told ITV’s Peston: “Parliament has to reach a majority on how it’s going to leave the EU.
“If it fails to do so then I can see the argument for taking it back to the people again, much as it would distress many of my colleagues.”
Ms Leadsom responded on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, suggesting a no-deal Brexit was possible if the Commons rejected the Prime Minister’s deal in the meaningful vote set for the week beginning January 14.
The Commons Leader, who played a key role in the Leave campaign in the run up to the 2016 referendum, said: “A managed no deal does not necessarily mean no Withdrawal Agreement at all.
“This is all speculation, but I am trying to find an alternative in the event we cannot agree this deal.
“There could be a further deal that looks at a more minimalist approach, that allows us to leave with some kind of deal and some kind of implementation period that avoids a cliff edge, that avoids uncertainty for businesses and travellers and so on.”
She also distanced herself from Ms Rudd’s stance calling a second referendum “unacceptable”.
She said a fresh poll would “undermine the biggest democratic exercise ever, where we had a clear majority to leave the European Union”.
Mrs May spoke at Lancaster House in London yesterday after a meeting with Polish premier Mateusz Morawiecki.
He said: “The Withdrawal Agreement is the best that could be obtained. It’s a window towards the future. We shall be able to work out detailed trade relations under new circumstances and also cooperation in the realm of international policy, security and all those areas of the utmost importance.”
Mr Morawiecki also suggested Polish migrants to the UK should consider returning home after Brexit, to benefit from the growth of the Polish economy.
He said: “Our Polish diaspora here in the UK can feel safe, can be sure their rights will be respected.
“This was very important for our government. It is our responsibility to make sure citizens who found their second home in the UK have their rights respected.
“However, as our economy is booming we would like to encourage our citizens to consider returning to Poland, although we respect everyone’s personal choices.”
Mrs May said: “My message to Polish people is clear. You can stay and we want you to stay.” She then repeated the phrase in Polish.