Theresa May is battling to stay in power as MPs seek to seize control of parliamentary business in a bid to secure a softer Brexit.
At the start of another crunch week in Westminster, the Commons is due to vote on an amendment which would force a series of indicative votes on alternatives to the prime minister’s Withdrawal Agreement.
It comes after Mrs May held “lengthy” talks on Sunday with prominent Brexiteer backbenchers, including Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis at her country residence Chequers to discuss whether there is sufficient support among MPs for another vote on her deal.
But in his regular column for the Daily Telegraph on Monday, Mr Johnson said Mrs May’s government had “chickened out” and “bottled it completely” over Brexit.
Defeat for the government in the Commons on Monday night on the plan – tabled by former ministers Sir Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve and Labour MP Hilary Benn – would be a further humiliation for Mrs May.
The proposal seeks to pave the way for a series of indicative votes in the Commons on Wednesday, effectively taking control of the Brexit process out of the hands of the government.
Brexit secretary Steve Barclay warned the risk of a general election would increase if MPs took control of parliamentary proceedings and brought about a “constitutional collision”.
But Chancellor Philip Hammond said “one way or another” MPs would be given the opportunity this week to decide what it is in favour of, though could not confirm whether Tories would be given a free vote on the options.
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At the weekend, two senior ministers – environment secretary Michael Gove and Mrs May’s de facto deputy David Lidington – dismissed reports of a “coup” to oust the prime minister.
On Monday, she will convene her Cabinet in the morning before she updates the Commons on the Brexit process following last week’s European Council summit where she agreed to delay Britain’s departure beyond March 29.
Bu Mr Johnson told Mrs May to set out “convincing proofs” of how the next phase of the negotiations will be different from the last to win support for her deal.
He said: “If she cannot give that evidence of change – she should drop the deal, and go back to Brussels, and simply set out the terms that so many on both sides – Remainers and Leavers – now believe are sensible.
“Extend the implementation period to the end of 2021 if necessary; use it to negotiate a free trade deal; pay the fee; but come out of the EU now – without the backstop. It is time for the PM to channel the spirit of Moses in Exodus, and say to Pharaoh in Brussels – let my people go.”
However, foreign office minister Mark Field said he would support revoking Article 50 if it became an option in the event Mrs May’s deal was defeated and free votes granted for indicative votes.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “My personal view is that I would be happy to revoke Article 50 – I appreciate that is probably a minority view – but if we get to this utter paralysis and I sincerely hope that in the next 48, 72 hours we do not, then if that becomes an option that’s an option that I would personally take.”
Meanwhile, The Sun newspaper used its front page on Monday to urge Mrs May to promise to resign in order to win support for her deal from Tory Brexiteers and the DUP.
“Unlike so many she has determinedly respected the will of the Leave majority… She must now take the next principled step – and show she is not just another craven politician determined to cling to power,” it said.
Speaking about Sunday’s Chequers talks with Brexiteers, a Downing Street spokesman said: “The PM and a number of government ministers met today at Chequers for lengthy talks with senior colleagues about delivering Brexit.
“The meeting discussed a range of issues, including whether there is sufficient support in the Commons to bring back a Meaningful Vote this week.”