Starmer tells May to abandon push on new deal as calls grow for her to quit

Prime Minister Theresa May leaves No10 for the House of Commons for prime minister's questions Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA

SHADOW Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said Theresa May should abandon attempts to get her new deal through the Commons.

"The prime minister needs to, today, accept that what she announced yesterday isn't going to work and pull the vote," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.

"She has still got time to say 'I do know what the central concerns of the Labour Party are and I'm prepared to put a concrete policy proposition on the face of the bill on the issues of a close economic relationship and on the issue of a public vote'.

"She could do that. That would be a far better way forward than just allowing this vote to happen in a week or two's time and to lose it. So, I think she should pull it today and reconsider."

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill will be published on Friday.

Environment secretary Michael Gove refused to guarantee that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill would come to the Commons in the week beginning June 3, as had previously been promised.

"We will reflect over the course of the next few days on how people look at the proposition that has been put forward," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"But there has to be a vote on a Withdrawal Agreement implementation bill."

"I think that, rather than saying anything precipitate, I think everyone should take an opportunity to reflect on what the PM will say later today and look at the bill."

"I think the most important thing we should do is reflect on all the options in front of us."

Asked about the 1922 Committee's decisions on Mrs May's future and whether she would still be prime minister next Tuesday, after the results of the European elections are clear, Mr Gove said: "I am a supporter of the prime minister, I voted for her in the last vote of confidence, I believe that she is working incredibly hard in a difficult situation in order to find a way through for this country, and she has my respect and support.

"I think the prime minister will be prime minister next Tuesday, yes."

Senior Tories on the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee have discussed a possible rule change to allow a fresh bid to oust her.

Chief Whip Julian Smith met members of the committee, for just two minutes, as rumours circulated in Westminster about the Prime Minister's future.

A series of Cabinet ministers have asked for meetings with Mrs May to raise their concerns about the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) which would put the Prime Minister's Brexit plan into law.

Downing Street sources said it was possible that the PM could meet Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday, but there was no confirmation that an audience would be granted for other ministers with reservations about the plan.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has asked for a meeting to discuss his concerns about the prospect of a second referendum after Mrs May revealed she would grant MPs a vote on whether the Brexit deal should be put to the public.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell also has particular concerns because he fears the prospect of another referendum could be "exploited" by the SNP to call for a fresh independence vote.

In a visible sign that Mrs May's authority is slipping away, Brexit-supporting colleagues in the so-called Pizza Club were absent for the start of Prime Minister's Questions, with Cabinet ministers including Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom only appearing once the session was well under way.

In the Commons, Mrs May appeared to acknowledge that her premiership was drawing to a close, having already said she will set out a timetable for her departure after the crunch vote on her WAB.

European Research Group chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg told the Today programme he suggested it would be "more dignified and more elegant" if Mrs May followed the constitutional convention of quitting if she lost the support of a Commons majority rather than relying on an internal Tory rule change to oust her.

Many of Theresa May's key ministers were missing from prime minister's questions.

Defending her Brexit plan, she said it would offer MPs the chance to decide on key issues including customs arrangements.

"Allowing the second reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill will enable this House to come to a decision on that issue.

"It will also allow the House to come to a decision on a second referendum, which I continue to believe would not be the right route for this country to go down.

"We should deliver on the first referendum before suggesting anything about a second."

Theresa May told MPs "the only way forward is leaving with a deal" but that would require "compromise on all sides of the debate".

She said her 10-point plan would "bring us closer to the bright future that awaits our country once we end the political impasse and get Brexit done".

Mrs May appeared to acknowledge that she had only a limited future in her job when she said: "In time, another prime minister will be standing at this despatch box. But while I am here I have a duty to be clear with the House about the facts.

"If we are going to deliver Brexit in this Parliament we are going to have to pass a Withdrawal Agreement Bill and we will not do so without holding votes on the issues that have divided us the most, that includes votes on customs arrangements and on a second referendum."

Downing Street has confirmed the government will bring its key Brexit legislation, the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), to the Commons in the week beginning June 3.

A No10 spokesman told a Westminster briefing: "Our commitment to have the second reading of that bill in that week remains."

The spokesman signalled that there would be widespread engagement with the DUP and Labour in the run up to the WAB.

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