Tory Eurosceptics have claimed 27 Conservative rebels ready to back amendments to the Brexit Bill tabled by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
One of the most influential Tory Eurosceptics, Steve Baker, released a statement claiming he had identified the group of 27 in an apparent pre-emptive strike to quell the possibility of the bill to trigger Article 50 being derailed.
Mr Baker, who chairs the pro-Brexit European Research Group, claimed the group of 27 – who he did not name – could unite with opposition parties to demand the rights of EU citizens living in the UK are protected and to press for a “meaningful” final debate on the terms of the exit package.
The bill sailed through its second reading and returns to the Commons for three days this week when a number of amendments will be debated before the final vote on whether to begin the exit process is held this Wednesday.
Mr Baker said: “I understand 27 Conservative MPs plan to support wrecking amendments to the Withdrawal Bill, weakening the Prime Minister’s hand and exposing the bill to damage in the Lords.”
And, referring to the decision by the Irish Parliament in 2008 to vote down its own referendum result and hold a second one, he said: “Given the court case in Ireland, we know at least some MPs intend to overturn the result.
“This is a time to unite behind a democratic result, not plot to repudiate it. Any vote to amend this simple bill is a vote against implementation of the referendum result.”
Rebel Conservative MPs would certainly include Ken Clarke – the only Tory to vote against the bill last week – and would likely include prominent pro-Europeans such as Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve and Nicky Morgan, who this week voted with the Government.
On Thursday, The Independent revealed that Neil Carmichael had become the first Conservative MP to say he is likely to rebel in a key vote to stop May carrying out her threat to take Britain out of the EU with no fresh trade deal.
The Tory whips are attempting to quell “guerrilla” tactics by pro-Remainers by banning their MPs from travelling outside London this week in case they are needed at short notice to vote.
The Westminster convention of “pairing” – where MPs are allowed to skip votes as long as someone from a rival party is also absent – has also been suspended with the Government holding a slender working majority of 16.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said she would prefer the UK to walk away from the EU with no deal at all rather than signing up to a bad deal.
Pro-European Tories and most opposition MPs believe it is essential Parliament has a say on the final deal when the two-year negotiations are over.
Former minister Ms Soubry said: “Some Brexiteers would be happy to force the Prime Minister to walk away with no deal and no thought to the consequences for this country.”
142 pages of amendments have been tabled – including a Liberal Democrat demand for a second referendum on the terms of the final Brexit deal, while the SNP wants the devolved administration to have a veto.
The Tories were in disarray for many years over the question of EU membership, but have managed to present a relatively united front since the Brexit vote last June, with its MPs agreeing not to frustrate the will of the majority – while Labour MPs have appeared more disunited on the issue.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has consistently vowed not to frustrate the triggering of Article 50 and imposed a three-line whip on his MPs to vote with the Government last week – but 47 Labour MPs defied the instruction, including 15 frontbenchers.
But next week could see a return to Tory discord, with insiders claiming it is possible the Government could lose at least one vote on the amendments.
Pro-remain Conservative backbencher Neil Carmichael told The Mail on Sunday: “Parliament must have a final say when we get to the endgame.
“We could be faced with the prospect of leaving the EU by ‘falling off a cliff’ – as some have described leaving with no deal – with potentially disastrous economic consequences.”