Theresa May looks to be on the brink of another humiliating Brexit vote defeat amid stuttering attempts to find a breakthrough with the EU.
The embattled Prime Minister faces a second meaningful vote in the Commons on Tuesday as she attempts to see her Withdrawal Agreement passed by Parliament.
Tory Brexiteers have said rejection of Mrs May’s deal is “inevitable” unless she was able to secure significant changes to the Northern Ireland backstop, with some senior Conservatives suggesting she should once again postpone the vote rather than risk another damaging blow.
Former chief whip Andrew Mitchell told the Times: “Anything that avoids what looks like a massive defeat on Tuesday is worth considering.”
Mrs May’s detractors have called for significant changes to the backstop plans to be secured to avoid another Government loss but talks in Brussels are “deadlocked” according to a Downing Street source.
She has been persuaded to table a “conditional” motion setting out the terms for dealing with the backstop issue which Parliament would be prepared to accept.
But Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the pro-Brexit Tory European Research Group, told the Times that “would not be a foolish way to proceed”.
He said: “I think a meaningful vote with an addendum saying this House will support a deal if such and such is done might be a way of uniting the party or limiting the scale of the defeat.”
The calls for a postponement also came after former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan warned Mrs May’s position would become untenable if Parliament “dismantled” her Brexit policy in a series of votes during the course of the week.
Though it might avoid a defeat, delaying the meaningful vote would be another setback for the Prime Minister after senior ministers spent the weekend insisting it would go ahead as planned.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove, one of the leaders of the official Leave campaign in the referendum, became the latest Cabinet minister to urge MPs to back Mrs May’s deal.
In an article for the Daily Mail, he said: “I hope that everyone who believes in our democracy – in the importance of delivering Brexit, but also in the critical need to unite our country – will come behind the Prime Minister’s deal this week.”
Meanwhile, Public Health Minister Steve Brine warned he will resign unless Conservative MPs are given a free vote in a vote expected later in the week on whether Britain should leave the EU without a deal.
“I think a free vote would be very smart,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour.
“I would find it very difficult, actually impossible to be part of a policy that was pursuing actively no-deal.”
Mrs May postponed her meaningful vote once from December, to then see it resoundingly defeated the following month by a majority of 230.
With less than three weeks to March 29, the current Brexit date, any delay would raise renewed questions as to whether there was any way she could get her deal through the Commons.
Mrs May has said if she loses the vote on Tuesday, there will be further votes on Wednesday.
These will be on whether the UK should leave with no-deal and on Thursday the question would be on whether they should seek an extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process.
At Westminster, many believe that in that event MPs would vote to delay Britain’s departure which has sparked fury from Brexiteers.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt previously warned them they risked losing Brexit altogether unless they fell in line and backed the deal.
He said there was now “wind in the sails” of the opponents of Brexit, adding it would be “devastating” for the Conservatives if they failed to deliver on their commitment to take Britain out of the EU.
Meanwhile, Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer indicated Labour would not put down an amendment calling for a second referendum on Tuesday, stating there would be “plenty of opportunities” to do so in the coming weeks.
He said Tuesday should be about defeating Mrs May’s deal.