Theresa May “spectacularly mishandled” Thursday’s Brexit votes and brought an “entirely avoidable” defeat on herself, a Tory former cabinet minister has said.
Nicky Morgan also stressed that trust in the prime minister among both Leavers and Remainers in the party was now at “rock bottom”.
May was humiliated again at the hands of eurosceptic Tories on Thursday, who helped Labour defeat her by abstaining in a Commons vote on her Brexit plan
The PM had hoped to show Brussels she had a “stable” majority for her recent diplomatic push to revise her plans, but Conservative backbenchers registered their protest as they sought to keep open the option of a no-deal exit.
There was further embarrassment for Number 10 after ministers including International Trade Secretary Liam Fox had warned Brexiteers that they risked derailing May’s latest bid to get a better deal.
Morgan, a Remainer who has supported a softer Norway-style Brexit but now wants the PM to pursue the so-called Malthouse compromise plan backed by Brexiteers, said the defeat was “symptomatic” of Downing Street and the whips’ office.
She accused May of failing for years to listen to calls to reach out across parties to find a Brexit majority in the Commons, and instead accepting all the demands of the Tory eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG).
That means Brexit must now be delivered with their backing as the time to change course and bring Labour on board with a softer deal had now passed.
On Twitter, the Commons Treasury committee chair said: “The defeat last night was entirely avoidable.
“A small change in words would have been enough.
“But there are a lot of stubborn people on all sides and trust is now at rock bottom.
“It is however symptomatic of a Downing Street and whips office that’s been determined to keep MPs and Parliament at arms length since 2016.
“To have both pro and anti Brexit MPs abstain against the PM is spectacular mishandling and this is not the first time it has happened.”
She went on: “A withdrawal agreement is needed to avoid a no-deal outcome to Brexit. An agreement needs a majority of MPs to support it and legislation to implement it.
“Will enough Labour MPs keep voting with Tory ministers to achieve that? Seems unlikely to me.
“So the numbers have to be provided by Conservative MPs, DUP and some Labour MPs.”
It came as Ireland’s foreign minister said he could not believe that May had still not navigated a way through Tory divisions despite being just weeks from Brexit on March 29.
“I think it is extraordinary and unbelievable really that the British Parliament and British Government have let it come to this,” Simon Coveney said.
“I do, however, believe that Theresa May is sincere and does want to protect the Good Friday Agreement.
“Forty-two days out until Britain is due to leave, there is still divisions in a political party causing Ireland to spend hundreds of millions of euro to prepare for no deal.”