Pro-Brexit ministers signalled they could resign from the Cabinet if Theresa May backs a lengthy delay to Britain’s departure from the European Union as a way of ending the Brexit stalemate.
Tempers boiled over as she prepared to request an extension to Article 50 following her inability to assemble a potentially winning majority of Tory Eurosceptics and DUP MPs for her Brexit blueprint.
Downing Street has acknowledged that the country faces a crisis in attempting to resolve the deadlock over Brexit.
The situation has been further complicated by Speaker John Bercow’s ruling that Mrs May cannot hold a third “meaningful vote” on her plans unless they are substantially altered.
His intervention has infuriated ministers who have accused him of trying to sabotage the Prime Minister’s plans.
They are urgently looking at ways of complying with his ruling, but his intervention ended any chance of Mrs May staging another “meaningful vote” this week.
Mrs May’s request for extension will be made in a letter to the European Council president, Donald Tusk, ahead of a EU leaders’ summit in Brussels on Thursday.
However, discussions over whether she should ask for a short delay of three months or a much longer postponement led to abrasive exchanges between ministers during a 90-minute discussion on Brexit.
Eurosceptic ministers Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox and Chris Grayling insisted that a no deal Brexit would be preferable to a long extension of Article 50, hinting they would rather resign than agree to a delay of a year or more.
Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, also argued against an extension beyond 30 June.
Ms Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, accused other ministers of trying to scupper Brexit.
“This used to be the cabinet that would deliver Brexit and now from what I’m hearing it’s not,” she said.
Dr Fox also warned that the Tory party would never be forgiven if it failed to deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum. His message was seen as aimed at other ministers manoeuvring to succeed Mrs May.
A similar point was made by Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who said that getting Brexit wrong would hand the Downing Street keys to Jeremy Corbyn.