A Conservative minister has indicated he could back revoking Article 50 in a major shift in thinking among senior Tories over Brexit.
Foreign Office Minister Mark Field said he would support halting Brexit if it became an option in the event Theresa May’s deal is defeated and MPs are granted free votes for ‘indicative votes’ on what steps to take next.
His comments represent the first time a government minister has backed revocation, and comes after an online petition calling on the government to cancel Brexit reached five million signatures.
Field told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “My personal view is that I would be happy to revoke Article 50 – I appreciate that is probably a minority view – but if we get to this utter paralysis and I sincerely hope that in the next 48, 72 hours we do not, then if that becomes an option it’s an option that I would personally take.”
He went on to suggest that the UK’s European partners would prefer the UK to revoke for maybe two years and think again, rather than have a delay of just a few months.
It comes as a letter sent by Field to his constituents revealed his office had received nearly 150 emails from them about revoking Article 50.
“As an FCO Minister I intend once again to vote with the Government in support of the Withdrawal Agreement early next week and sincerely hope this passes through the House of Commons along with a short technical extension to allow key legislative measure to be passed (before 23 May),” he wrote.
He added that, if the Withdrawal Agreement was voted down and the Government worked to avoid a no-deal Brexit on March 29, the issue of revoking Article 50 would “come to the fore”.
“Whilst not firmly committing to supporting this course of action, I believe it to be a more desirable outcome than No Deal, a second referendum or a General Election (which would achieve little given how internally divided the two main parties are on this issue),” he said.
On Sunday, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced parliament would be given the chance to hold indicative votes on alternatives to the PM’s Brexit deal this week - but said a decision had not yet been made on whether Tories would be free to vote without adhering to the party line.
MPs will vote on their favoured Brexit outcomes on Monday night against expectations a third vote on May’s deal is defeated.
Meanwhile, May continues to fight off attempts to remove her from power after holding “lengthy” crisis talks with prominent Brexiteer backbenchers.
As the Prime Minister battles to save her beleaguered deal ahead of another crunch week in Westminster, she invited Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis - among others - to her Chequers country residence to discuss whether there is sufficient support among MPs to bring the withdrawal agreement before the Commons again.
Her de facto deputy David Lidington and Environment Secretary Michael Gove – who were both forced to dismiss reports of a Cabinet coup to oust May on Sunday – were among members of the government involved in the talks.
Both The Times and Telegraph reported May dodged Brexiteer demands at the summit to set out a timetable for her departure as The Sun newspaper used its front page to urge her to quit under the headline ‘Time’s Up Theresa’.
May has just two weeks to find a solution to the Brexit stalemate or Britain faces a choice between crashing out of the EU with no deal on April 12 or delaying withdrawal for months.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The PM and a number of Government ministers met today at Chequers for lengthy talks with senior colleagues about delivering Brexit.
“The meeting discussed a range of issues, including whether there is sufficient support in the Commons to bring back a meaningful vote this week.”
Chancellor Philip Hammond accused those allegedly trying to topple May of being “self-indulgent”.
The Sunday Times claimed 11 Cabinet ministers wanted Mrs May to make way for someone else and Lidington was in line to take over the helm.
But the Mail on Sunday reported ministers were plotting to install the Environment Secretary as a caretaker leader.