A number of Cabinet ministers have given private assurances to senior backbenchers that they will refuse to vote against a crucial amendment empowering the House of Commons to drive the agenda on Brexit.
A bigger group of about 20 middle-ranking and junior ministers is threatening to resign if Chief Whip Julian Smith attempts to instruct them to oppose a crucial amendment.
The extraordinary rebellion was revealed as the Government desperately tried to avoid defeat by announcing that voting on a Plan B promised by the Prime Minister is being unexpectedly postponed until January 29.
Furious MPs said the delay, announced by Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, appeared to be another attempt to run down the clock towards Brexit Day on March 29.
Mrs May will make a statement on her plans on Monday, as expected, but voting on her motion will not be allowed for another eight days.
The delay will also apply to the amendment designed to put Parliament in the driving seat that is being put down by former ministers Nick Boles and Sir Oliver Letwin with a cross-party group of senior MPs, including Labour’s Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper.
In other developments:
- A poll revealed support for Remain has risen sharply amid the Brexit turmoil to 56 per cent, compared with 44 per cent for Leave.
- Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair criticised the party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn for refusing to take part in crisis Brexit talks with the Prime Minister unless she rejects no deal.
- The Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers were holding more talks with senior MPs to break the deadlock in Parliament.
Mr Boles, one of the leaders of the rebellion, told the Standard: “A large single-digit-number of Cabinet ministers have told me they will not vote against the amendment.
“A larger number of up to 20 ministers outside Cabinet say they will resign if they are whipped to vote against the amendment.”
He added: “If anything this is gathering greater momentum across the House.”
The effect of the amendment would be to temporarily suspend the Commons standing orders that give the Government control over the timetable of the House. That would allow cross-party groups to pass laws of their own if they can command a majority.
Under the plan, a European Union Withdrawal Number 2 Bill would be voted on, which, if passed, would force the Government to delay the UK departure from the EU and seek a fresh soft-Brexit deal.
The amendment and the Bill were boosted today after confirmation that Chancellor Philip Hammond told business leaders that he believed the backbench amendment would take the threat of a no-deal departure “off the table”.
He also predicted support for the Bill, saying it would postpone Brexit.
Writing in today’s Standard, Sir Oliver said the Bill would ensure that Parliament could kill off the “glistening unicorns”, including Boris Johnson’s call for a managed no deal, which the EU would reject.
He also called on Mrs May to show more flexibility in her red lines in talks with opposition MPs.
“If the Prime Minister sticks like glue to her ‘red lines’, I can guarantee that she will not get a majority,” he said.