Theresa May was warned by Tory rebels not to break a promise they will have a “real say” in the outcome of Brexit as the Prime Minister said ministers will be “accountable” to Parliament over the final deal with Brussels.
Mrs May spent Wednesday trying to agree a deal with the rebels to avoid a fresh mutiny over the so-called “meaningful vote” on Brexit, having put her reputation on the line on Tuesday by telling them she would compromise on the issue.
Negotiations came close to breaking point as the rebels, led by the former attorney general Dominic Grieve, publicly expressed fears of betrayal when Downing Street claimed one of their key demands was not up for discussion.
But on Wednesday night a deal appeared to be close as Mrs May’s former Europe adviser Sir Oliver Letwin was called in to draft the wording of an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that Mrs May hopes will pass muster with the mutineers.
It came as six Labour front benchers resigned as they rebelled against Jeremy Corbyn's policy on the single market.
Labour MPs had been told to abstain from a Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill calling on Britain to seek "full access" to the EU internal market - effectively keeping the UK in the single market.
But Laura Smith, a junior shadow cabinet office minister, and Parliamentary Private Secretaries Ged Killen, Ellie Reeves, Rosie Duffield, Tonia Antoniazzi and Anna McMorrin were among 90 Labour MPs who defied the whip by voting on the amendment, of whom 75 backed it.
Mrs May confirmed in Parliament that the Government will table a new amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill to address the rebels’ concerns, but insisted she will not agree to anything that would “overturn the will of the British people”.
She said her approach would be guided by the principle that "the Government's hand in negotiations cannot be tied by Parliament, but we need to be accountable to Parliament".
Mrs May managed to persuade most of the rebels not to vote against the Government on Tuesday by giving them a “personal assurance” that she would give ground ground over their demands for Parliament to have more say over the final Brexit deal.
After much reflection, I have resigned as Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office to vote against remaining in the EEA. I will always put my constituents in Crewe & Nantwich first— Laura Smith MP (@LauraSmithMP) June 13, 2018
The rebels want the Government to report back to Parliament by November if they have not reached a Brexit deal with Brussels, and seek Parliament’s approval on how they plan to proceed.
While this proposal appeared to be acceptable to Mrs May on the basis that Parliament’s advice would not be binding, Downing Street insisted it was not open to discussions over another demand - that Parliament would effectively take over the Brexit negotiations if no deal had been reached by mid-February.
The rebels insisted Mrs May had assured them in a private meeting on Tuesday that she was, in fact, prepared to discuss a compromise over their most controversial demand, even though Brexiteers insisted it was unacceptable.
Sources in the rebel camp last night insisted the problem was “capable of solution” though Downing Street sources suggested negotiations led by the Chief Whip Julian Smith would continue today.
The EU Withdrawal Bill returns to the Lords for further scrutiny on Monday, meaning the new amendment must be settled before then.
Today I voted for Lords Amendment 51 which would have kept the UK in the EEA. As the frontbench position was to abstain, I have resigned from my role as a PPS. Please see my resignation letter for my reasons. pic.twitter.com/hMFg8dbljY— Ellie Reeves (@elliereeves) June 13, 2018
Mr Grieve warned that if the Government failed to offer an adequate compromise, it would not be "the end of the matter".
No government would survive if it tried to dispense with Parliament's input, he said.
Remain-backing former minister Anna Soubry said: "If the PM goes back on that there will be no agreed amendment that I can support.”
Another Conservative Remainer, former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, denied that the rebels had been "played" by the Prime Minister.
She told the BBC: "What was agreed was the Prime Minister understood that Parliament wants to have a real say, in all circumstances, in relation to what's going to happen in the Brexit deal.
"It was the Prime Minister's personal assurance that was very important to us, and she has given us that."
Former minister Stephen Hammond, who was present at Tuesday's meeting with Mrs May, said he "trusts entirely" the promises made by the PM.
But he told Sky News: "If those amendments don't come forward, I and a number of others will consider voting against the Government."
Meanwhile it emerged that hundreds of MPs are being targeted by an anti-Brexit group which uses electoral data to convince them they can increase their majority if they back a second referendum.
Best For Britain is sending tailor-made statistics to MPs they believe they can influence, before holding presentations individually or in groups at which they try to win them over.
On Tuesday the Telegraph disclosed that Best For Britain, which is funded by the billionaire financier George Soros, had approached three ministers seeking their backing for a second referendum in defiance of Government policy.
The group had also been in contact with the justice minister Phillip Lee before he resigned over Theresa May’s handling of Brexit just hours before Parliament starting voting on the all-important EU Withdrawal Bill.
Best For Britain believes it can persuade 100 MPs to join colleagues who want a second referendum on EU membership. They want the MPs to insist on a public vote on the final Brexit deal negotiated by the Government.