Theresa May has been warned that dozens of her own government ministers could resign unless they are allowed to vote against a no-deal Brexit.
Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, has reportedly urged Downing Street to allow Tory MPs a free vote on moves aimed at preventing a no deal, amid fears that a refusal could lead to a number of resignations.
The Times reported that Ms Rudd believes that between 25 and 40 ministers want to vote for an amendment drafted by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory MPs Sir Oliver Letwin and Nick Boles.
The cross-party group of MPs is seeking to give time for a Bill to suspend the Article 50 withdrawal process if there is no new deal with Brussels by the end of February.
The amendment will be debated and voted on in the House of Commons on January 29.
Ms Rudd wants prime minister Theresa May to give Tory MPs a free vote on the motion in order to avoid a mass walkout of government ministers.
A Tory MP told The Times: “Amber is telling Downing Street to make it a free vote on behalf of lots of people.”
On Monday, less than a week after her withdrawal deal was resoundingly defeated, Mrs May told the Commons she would conduct further talks on the controversial Irish border backstop, and promised to give Parliament “a proper say” in negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and EU.
But she refused to rule out a no-deal Brexit and insisted there was no majority in the House of Commons for a so-called People’s Vote.
But Labour wants Parliament to be given the option to back a national poll on Brexit when MPs vote on the government’s EU exit stance next week.
An amendment to the prime minister’s Brexit motion calls for a vote on backing Labour’s plan for a customs union with the EU, and whether to legislate “to hold a public vote on a deal or a proposition” supported by a Commons majority.
Despite Mrs May’s claim that a second referendum could “damage social cohesion”, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the option should be considered.
He said: “Our amendment will allow MPs to vote on options to end this Brexit deadlock and prevent the chaos of a no deal.
“It is time for Labour’s alternative plan to take centre stage, while keeping all options on the table, including the option of a public vote.”
However, Labour’s amendment was carefully worded and did not explicitly say the party would officially support a second referendum.
In a break from usual parliamentary rules, MPs will be able to amend the so-called “neutral motion” tabled by the prime minister on Brexit, with votes due to take place on amendments chosen by Speaker John Bercow on January 29.
Labour’s Hilary Benn has tabled an amendment to the government motion calling for a range of indicative votes on various Brexit options.
He tweeted: “Just tabled an amendment for next week’s Brexit debate calling for the House of Commons to hold a series of indicative votes on a way forward.”
And Tory former attorney general Dominic Grieve is looking to allow a motion by a minority of 300 MPs – from at least five parties and including 10 Tories – to be debated in order to allow for indicative votes on where to go next.
In a sign of Labour divisions on the issue of a second Brexit referendum, shadow housing minister Melanie Onn said she could not support such a move.
The Great Grimsby MP tweeted: “This may mean that I am required to step down from my front bench housing role if it is a whipped vote.”
However, Chuka Umunna, a prominent supporter of a People’s Vote called for a firmer stance.
He tweeted: “There is always a flurry of excitement when the frontbench acknowledges the obvious – that a People’s Vote may be the only way forward (it is) – but that is not the position adopted by those running the show. Supporting “options” is not a credible or sustainable policy.”
On Monday, Mrs May announced she was scrapping a £65 fee for EU nationals wanting to remain in the UK after Brexit, and promised to guarantee workers’ rights and environmental safeguards.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier had assured him the EU remains “firmly supportive” of the Withdrawal Agreement in full, including its guarantees of no hard border in Ireland.