Theresa May has been accused of igniting a “firestorm” by Tory Brexiteers furious at her for paving the way for Britain to take part in European Parliament elections.
MPs raged at the decision to lay a new law in parliament that confirms Britons are on track to vote in a new cohort of MEPs in Strasbourg.
The elections will run for three days from 23 May – the day after Britain could have left the EU if a majority of MPs had backed the prime minister’s Brexit deal.
That deadline has been brought forward to 12 April, but Mrs May refuses to pursue a no-deal divorce and so will ask Brussels for another delay.
Sir Bill Cash, a veteran Tory eurosceptic, declared that “all over the country there is a firestorm about the fact we could be involved in European elections”.
He told the Commons in a debate on delaying Brexit to avoid no-deal: “There are people who are leaving their own parties over this.
“Because they are so infuriated by the fact that the arrangements which are under consideration here could lead us to be involved this absolutely insane idea…
“There is absolutely no reason why we should be involved in them.”
Another MP, Bob Seely, said he wished the news was a “week-late April Fool’s wind up”.
“This is really going to wind-up our voters, and not surprisingly,” he added.
While backbencher Eddie Hughes wrote on Twitter: “#BrexitmaynotmeanBrexit.”
Earlier, Conservative election candidates were emailed to confirm “we will be contesting” the European Parliament elections.
They were given just over a day to submit their applications.
De-facto deputy prime minister David Lidington and the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox also wrote to MPs to confirm “the government’s policy is to leave the EU with a deal… before 23 May so that the UK does not need to participate in the European Parliament elections”.
But they admitted that under the current law, if Britain is still a member of the EU by then it had to participate in the poll.
Tory Chair Brandon Lewis also emailed candidates to say “it is clear that we need to make contingency plans as a party” in the event the elections go ahead.