Top-level Brexit negotiations between the UK and the European Union will resume this week as the British Prime Minister prepares to return to Brussels to gain concessions on her withdrawal deal.
Theresa May will meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in the coming days, while Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will hold talks with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier today.
The pair are expected to discuss the proposals of the Alternative Arrangements Working Group of Tories, who have been seeking a compromise solution to avoid the need for the controversial Irish backstop.
And in a speech on Tuesday, Britain's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will set out what changes would be required to eliminate the legal risk of being indefinitely trapped in the insurance policy to avoid a hard border.
It comes after the UK's Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright suggested Mrs May might not seek to reopen the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to make changes to the backstop – prompting anger from Eurosceptic Tories.
Mr Wright implied the agreement could be amended via a codicil, saying the “objective” mattered more than the “mechanism”.
He told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I think what’s obvious is that Parliament, and I think probably people well beyond Parliament, are concerned about the potential indefinite nature of the backstop – that’s what we’ve got to do something about.
“If this is the only way of doing it then that’s the way we will pursue. If there are other ways of doing it that are just as effective that perhaps we haven’t yet explored then we will do that too.”
But Tory Brexiteer Sir John Redwood said it was not possible to “gloss” the Withdrawal Agreement.
“It needs significant changes, I’m not saying a little change would be sufficient, it requires a renegotiation,” he told the Press Association.
Sir Bill Cash, Conservative chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, said if the changes were just “flowery words” then the deal “won’t wash”.
“The backstop is unacceptable because it means that we remain in the EU indefinitely and also would do immense damage to relations with Northern Ireland … and therefore as far as I’m concerned unless the wording actually has legal force and has substance it isn’t going to work.”
Speculation that around half a dozen Labour MPs could quit the party this week mounted on Sunday night.
Key figures believed to be on the verge of leaving did not respond to the Press Association’s requests for comment.
Former shadow cabinet minister Owen Smith said he was “not commenting” on the rumours.
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock told BBC Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour: “The talk has been going on so long that I say with great regret that yes, there probably will be some kind of splintering.
“It just seems to have been in the rumour mill so long that it’s unlikely that wouldn’t be the outcome.”
On Sunday morning, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said he did not see “any need for anybody to split from the party”.
Mr McDonnell also revealed Labour would “look at” a proposal put forward by backbenchers Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson to back a second Brexit referendum in the next round of Brexit votes on February 27.
- Press Association