The prime minister has been warned “tinkering” with her Brexit deal “won’t cut it” as she was advised to delay a looming vote on her agreement.
Theresa May is facing the prospect of a heavy defeat when the House of Commons votes on her deal next Tuesday.
With many MPs opposed to the so-called backstop arrangement included in the agreement struck with Brussels, it is estimated the prime minister could be at least 90 votes short of winning parliament’s approval.
On Thursday night, Tory backbenchers tabled an amendment to the parliamentary vote on Mrs May’s deal.
The clause is aimed at giving MPs a future choice on whether the UK enters the backstop arrangement – a means to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland – or to instead extend the Brexit transition period.
The amendment also calls for a future UK-EU relationship or “alternative arrangements” to be in place one year after the backstop is triggered.
It was suggested Downing Street had a role in the tabling of the amendment, with Nikki Da Costa – who served in Number 10 until last month – commenting: “I know a government amendment when I see one.”
Earlier on Thursday, Mrs May revealed she is “looking at” how parliament could decide on whether the UK enters the backstop or extends the transition period beyond December 2020.
However, critics of the prime minister’s Brexit deal immediately dismissed attempts to use the amendment as a bid to appease her opponents.
Arlene Foster, the DUP leader whose party props up Mrs May’s government at Westminster but who are vehemently against her deal, said: “Domestic legislative tinkering won’t cut it.
“The legally binding international withdrawal treaty would remain fundamentally flawed as evidenced by the attorney general’s legal advice.”
With many expecting the prime minister to suffer a substantial loss when her Brexit deal is voted on by MPs next week, a senior Tory suggested Mrs May should delay a parliamentary showdown on her agreement.
Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the influential 1922 committee of Conservative MPs, said most people wanted to “see this process moving forward”.
But he added: “I don’t think there’s any point in ploughing ahead and losing the vote heavily.”
In order to avoid a vote, the government could either end Tuesday’s debate early, which would require a separate vote, or “talk out” the ongoing Brexit debate beyond the deadline for a vote.
They could also not move their motion approving the prime minister’s deal at the beginning of parliamentary business next week, although Labour MP Chris Bryant predicted this would “surely mean the government has collapsed”.
Downing Street has so far insisted the vote will take place as planned on Tuesday night.
As she continues her bid to win support for her agreement, Mrs May has dispatched ministers to every nation and region of the UK on Friday to speak to local communities about the Brexit deal.
Around 30 ministers, including the cabinet’s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, Chancellor Philip Hammond, Scotland Secretary David Mundell and Health Secretary Matt Hancock, will visit all corners of the UK.
The prime minister said: “”We have delivered a deal that honours the vote of the British people.
“I’ve been speaking to factory workers in Scotland, farmers in Wales and people right across the country, answering their questions about the deal and our future.
“Overwhelmingly, the message I’ve heard is that people want us to get on with it.
“And that’s why it’s important that ministers are out speaking with communities across the UK today about how the deal works for them.”