Update 9.15am: Theresa May has been warned she could face a mass revolt of Conservative MPs if the country appears on course for a no-deal Brexit.
The leaders of the 100-strong Brexit Delivery Group of moderate Conservatives wrote to Chief Whip Julian Smith setting out widespread discontent at the prospect of a no-deal departure.
Andrew Percy, one of the group’s leaders, said dozens of his colleagues would be prepared to vote for measures to delay the March 29 exit date if the “intransigence” of hard-line Brexiteers meant Mrs May’s deal is again rejected by MPs.
Fresh Brexit talks have been scheduled for early next week as Mrs May heads towards another Commons showdown on her EU withdrawal stance. It is expected to take place on Wednesday.
In comments apparently aimed at the European Research Group (ERG) of Brexiteers, Mr Percy warned they risked the prospect of Brexit not happening at all unless they compromised and backed a deal.
“Some of my colleagues have got to recognise that the game they have thus far been playing with regards to this whole process is not going to end well for them and could potentially end with the delaying of, perhaps even no Brexit – which some of us have spent a lot of our parliamentary and political careers campaigning for,” he said.
Any move by members of the Brexit Delivery Group would be contingent on it becoming clear any revised deal brought back to the Commons would not be passed.
In their letter, leaked to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Percy and co-leader Simon Hart said: “Numerous members of our group have alerted us to their intention (should rejection of the deal look likely) to get behind amendments that are planned in the name of Oliver Letwin and others and which will have the twin effect of taking no deal off the table and delaying Brexit.”
They urged the Government to consider a free vote so that the MPs could express their views without the damage of a rebellion.
In a further indication of how high the stakes are, up to 25 members of the Government are prepared to rebel and vote for a Brexit delay – something that would require them to resign – unless Mrs May rules out a no-deal scenario, according to the Guardian.
But former Tory leader Lord Howard dismissed suggestions Brexit should be delayed and insisted warnings about the impact of a no-deal departure had been exaggerated.
“We must leave, and I believe we must leave on March 29,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
Fresh Brexit talks have been scheduled for early next week as Theresa May heads towards another Commons showdown on her EU withdrawal stance.
The move comes amid reports the UK Prime Minister is facing a major challenge from Tory MPs opposed to a no-deal exit from the EU.
Britain's Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox announced they will hold talks again with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in the coming days on the Northern Ireland backstop.
Ahead of crunch Commons votes expected next Wednesday, Mrs May will travel to an EU-Arab summit in Egypt this Sunday.
While Government sources have been keen to dampen talk of a “deal in the desert”, the PM is expected to have meetings with EU leaders on the sidelines of the gathering.
As the clock ticks down to the UK’s scheduled exit from the EU on March 29, the PM faces a rebellion by up to 100 Tory MPs who want her to delay Brexit if she cannot cut a deal, according to the Daily Telegraph.
The newspaper reports that the Brexit Delivery Group, which represents both Remain and Leave MPs, is calling for a free vote in the Commons next week on a backbench move to take no deal off the table.
A letter sent on behalf of the group to chief whip Julian Smith states that many MPs are “deeply troubled” at the prospect of a no deal, the Daily Telegraph says.
The newspaper quotes the letter as stating that “numerous” members of the group intend to back amendments taking the no-deal option off the table and delaying Brexit if a rejection of the Government’s deal looks likely.
Up to 25 members of the Government are prepared to rebel and vote for a Brexit delay unless Mrs May rules out a no-deal scenario, according to the Guardian.
After talks in Brussels on Thursday, Mr Barclay said both sides had agreed discussions should continue “urgently at a technical level”.
The PM believes that securing legally binding guarantees on the backstop is key to getting her Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons.
The backstop arrangements would see the whole of the UK remain in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland following some single market rules until a wider trade deal is agreed, in order to prevent the need for checkpoints on the Irish border.
- Press Association