The government could be facing another embarrassing parliamentary defeat, after a group of Tory eurosceptics suggested they were ready to rebel in a Brexit vote later today.
The motion asks the House of Commons to “reiterate its support” for what was agreed in a previous set of votes two weeks ago.
In that vote MPs passed an amendment requiring the prime minister to seek changes to the Irish backstop in fresh negotiations with Brussels, but also saw a majority for an amendment that ruled out leaving the EU without a deal.
A group of Tory Brexiteers have said they cannot vote for the motion later, if in doing so they would be tacitly rejecting a no-deal Brexit – an option which many of them believe would be preferable to delaying Brexit.
“I do think it’s important to make clear to government that that’s not what we’re supporting”, said Ben Bradley, the Brexiteer Conservative MP for Mansfield.
“There will be discussions that happen over the course of the time before the vote, to figure out if the motion needs to change or maybe there needs to be some clarification, but we don’t want to give government or people in the future the ability to come back and say actually Brexiteers voted to take no deal off the table, because that’s not the case,” Mr. Bradley told Sky News.
On Wednesday night a delegation from the European Research Group, the hard-line Brexiteer wing of the Conservative party, attempted to persuade the government’s chief whip to make last minute changes to the motion, but with no success.
Downing Street has denied the motion, which has been tabled in Theresa May’s name, would take a no-deal Brexit off the table.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “What the motion reflects is the position the prime minister set out after those votes, which is the Parliament wants the UK to leave with a deal, but in order to do so it requires us to secure legally-binding changes in relation to the backstop.”
He added: “No-deal is an eventuality we wish to avoid, but one we continue to plan for. Does no deal remain on the table? The answer is yes.”
But Caroline Spellman, the former conservative minister who tabled the amendment on 29 January that rejected no-deal, suggested the government motion did represent a step towards avoiding a no-deal exit.
“I think this is really important because it shows the prime minister respects the will of the house, and in fact putting down this amendment and creating a hook to hang a hat on it will make it possible for parliament to legislate to rule out a no-deal Brexit,” she told Sky News.
Labour have tabled an amendment to the motion which seeks to allow parliament to take control of the Brexit process if the government has not put Mrs May’s deal to a second meaningful vote by 27 February.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the aim was to prevent the prime minister pursuing a “reckless” policy of running down the clock in a way that left no time for anything other than a choice between her deal or no deal.
Downing Street had hoped the vote would be a low-key, procedural moment, after the PM promised MPs they would get another chance to vote on the Brexit process later this month.
A number of ministers, including some in the cabinet, are known to be preparing to resign their positions in order to vote against the government to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
However, by offering a further vote on 27 February, Mrs May has bought a further two weeks before those minister might have to take such a decision.