The defence minister Tobias Ellwood has hinted that Theresa May could be poised to propose an extension to article 50 and confirmed that if she does not, he is “tempted” to vote for a delay to Brexit.
“I don’t support the idea that we go ahead towards no deal,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Over the weekend three cabinet minsters demanded the prime minister stop using the threat of a no-deal Brexit as a negotiating tactic.
On Wednesday an amendment is due to be tabled by former Labour and Conservative cabinet ministers Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin, which would instruct May to seek an extension of article 50 if she does not have a deal ratified by 13 March.
May is due to update the Commons on Brexit on Tuesday after her return from talks with other EU leaders in Egypt.
Asked if she could announce an extension to article Ellwood said: “You need to wait and hear what she has to say when she gets back.”
Pressed to clarify whether he knew a delay would be announced, Ellwood said: “That I don’t know. I’m encouraging that to happen because it is not in anybody’s interest to see no deal affecting Britain in the way that we are talking about.”
Asked if we would back the Cooper/Letwin amendment, Ellwood said he was “tempted” but added “much will happen” before the vote.
Ellwood also echoed some of the criticisms of the hard-Brexit-backing European Research Group voiced last week by three former Tory MPs after defecting from the party.
Ellwood said the prime minister had done her “utmost to appease the ERG”. He added: “The actual referendum itself was done with them in mind. The article 50 letter was sent with them in mind. The motions have been delayed and written with the ERG in mind.
“It’s now important for them to fall in line. We would not be having this conversation about no deal if it wasn’t for the fact that, I’m afraid, there’s been a bloc voice in our party that has hindered the prime minister getting this across the line.”
Members of the ERG are relaxed about the prospects of a no-deal Brexit, but Ellwood set out the case against.
He said: “Does it responsibly answer the referendum question? No it doesn’t. Does it domestically help a divided nation on the Brexit issue? No it doesn’t. And does it help Britain’s prosperity in moving to WTO terms? No it doesn’t. This is not good for Britain. In fact it is out of character for an internationally engaged country with an aspiration to help shape the world to actually move in this direction.”
Damian Hinds, the education secretary, insisted that Brexit would not be delayed. Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain, he said: “It is going to happen on the 29 March.”
Asked if he was 100% confident about that he said: “Yes I am. Myself and my colleagues in government are working very hard, no one harder of course than the prime minister, to make sure we can get that deal over the time.
“There is a very good deal on the table. There are some legitimate concerns about the backstop in terms of the timing and so on. And it is important to get those resolved, but yes that is what we are doing.”
Later on the Today programme he said that delaying the UK’s departure from the EU would only prolong the uncertainty. “Much better to go on and do it,” he said.