Mr Davis is said to have told Theresa May he would not accept proposals giving MPs sway over the government’s actions in the event she fails to agree a deal with Brussels.
He was bolstered by a barrage of anger that hit Downing Street from Tory Brexiteers in the space of a few hours, when it emerged ministers had reached a potential compromise with pro-EU rebels wanting parliament to play a greater role.
It now sets the scene for a major showdown in the Commons next week, where the rebels are likely to face a tough decision on whether to force their proposals on Ms May – inflicting a damaging defeat on their party leader.
At Thursday lunchtime pro-EU rebels believed they were on the brink of a peace deal with Downing Street, following hours of negotiations between Ms May’s representatives and their leading MP, Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general.
But when the government tabled its compromise at 4.45pm, Mr Grieve discovered a critical part had been altered from the wording he believed had been agreed.
It related to whether or not, in the case of no deal being agreed with the EU, MPs would be allowed to “amend” the government’s plans – either to approve or reject them, or in some circumstances to direct them.
Explaining how the change came about, a source told The Independent: “Word was beginning to get out at 3pm that the government had done a deal with the rebels, and it provoked a backlash from the Brexiteers.
“It was all about this issue about amendability. [Senior Brexiteer MP] Bill Cash had a meeting with ministers and he was worried about it, and after that things kicked off.
“There was then a crescendo of protest up to the point where David took a view that this was the ground to fight on – he’s a man who wants ground to fight on and won’t budge, he’s a swashbuckling Tory, doesn’t like to be seen to be giving in or retreating. Not the sort for a strategic withdrawal.”
The source added: “Amendability was the issue on which he chose to dig his heels in, and in the end that was the decision.”
On Friday rebels failed to hide their suspicions that Mr Davis was behind what they see as an extraordinary U-turn from the prime minister, with at least two MPs, Antoinette Sandbach and Stephen Hammond, claiming the process had been “hijacked”.
But The Independent’s source took a broader view, saying: “What was agreed with Dominic was an option that was to be put to the prime minister.
“It was not the case that she had made her mind up on it, and that then an about-turn was done. It was that she had options, and she took one of them.”
The source said: “David Davis is the secretary of state, this is his bill and he is part of the decision-making process. The idea that he is some kind of rogue minister putting his hobnail boots in, there is not a bit of that.”
Another source, close to Mr Davis, said it was “completely untrue” that he had acted to prevent a deal being done, and said the proposals Ms May had brought forward were simply in step with “red lines” the Brexit secretary had already set out.
The whole row was sparked by the Lords last month passing a plan to give parliament power to direct Ms May’s actions if she failed to seal a Brexit deal later this year, meaning it would be unlikely she could take the UK out of Europe with no deal.
Ms May was set to lose a vote on that plan in the Commons on Tuesday, which would have made it law, and had also rejected a compromise from Mr Grieve – but in a last-minute move that saw her avoid a major defeat, she met pro-EU rebels and promised to bring forward her own compromise proposals.
The MPs left the meeting believing parliament would at least be given power to approve or reject her approach in the event no deal is reached with the EU, but what was published on Tuesday gave them no binding vote.
Beaconsfield MP Mr Grieve told The Independent at the time: “What has been announced is not in the spirit of what we agreed, it completely cuts off its effectiveness.”
On Monday the House of Lords is likely to back proposals closer to those wanted by Mr Grieve and other pro-EU rebels, with them then heading back to the Commons for a final showdown.
In a letter Mr Davis sent to the Lords on Friday ahead of the votes, he said: “We have agreed with the spirit of amendments tabled on this, much of which mirrors commitments we have already given.”
He added: “We also gave a commitment that we would consider Dominic Grieve’s amendment ... and come back with a new version in the House of Lords.
“That is precisely what we have done. Our new amendment reflects these discussions and ensures that in the unlikely event that parliament rejects the final deal or no agreement in principle can be reached ... The government must make a statement to parliament, and that statement must be followed by a vote in both the Commons and the Lords.”
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