Rebel leader Dominic Grieve has heaped more pressure on the prime minister as she attempts to avoid a potentially devastating Commons defeat.
Tory Brexit insurgent Grieve has pushed Theresa May to agree to an 11th-hour deal to avoid the humiliation of defeat when a new Lords’ amendment on a meaningful vote is debated on Wednesday.
And in a bid to calm some jittery rebels he also said that if the government was beaten it would not fall.
The new peers’ amendment – labelled ‘Grieve II’ – came after the rebels accused ministers of reneging on measures which they believed had been agreed to stave off a rebellion last week.
The amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, tabled by Viscount Hailsham, would require the government to allow MPs to vote on how it would proceed in the absence of a Brexit deal by January 21 next year.
But Grieve said he still hoped it would be possible to come to a ‘sensible compromise’ that would address the concerns of both sides and he dismissed suggestions that the rebels would topple the government if it was defeated.
‘That is complete nonsense. This is the end stage of the detailed consideration of a piece of legislation,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
‘Whichever way the vote ultimately goes, the idea that the government is going to be endangered by this difference of view within the House of Commons which might lead to its defeat is complete nonsense.’
Asked whether he still trusted May, Grieve said: ‘I am very conscious that the prime minister is in great difficulty. I have known her for very many years. I have a great understanding of some of the problems she faces.
‘I would be very happy if we can resolve this in a way which makes me feel that the trust I always try to place in the prime minister is honoured.’
May has warned against any moves to ‘tie her hands’ during negotiations with Brussels, saying that parliament must not be able to ‘overturn the will of the British people’.
She insisted she had been listening to the concerns of critics but said the legislation must not restrict her freedom in talks with Brussels.
Under government plans, if MPs reject the agreement reached by May with Brussels, or if no deal has been obtained by January 21, parliament will be offered the opportunity to vote on a ‘neutral motion’ stating it has considered a minister’s statement on the issue.
Crucially, the motion will be unamendable, meaning MPs cannot insert a requirement for May to go back to the negotiating table, extend the Brexit transition or revoke the UK’s withdrawal under Article 50.
The Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) said that it ‘cannot accept’ the amendment which was passed by a majority of 119 and would seek to overturn it when it returns to the Commons.
A DExEU spokesman said: ‘Agreeing to amendable motions would allow Parliament to direct Government on its approach to exiting the EU and so does not meet the reasonable tests set out by the Prime Minister and Brexit Secretary last week.’
Leading backbencher Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said that the meaningful vote was being used to ‘obstruct Brexit’ and ‘thwart the referendum result’.
Lord Hailsham said that Grieve, who watched the Brexit Bill debate at the bar of the Lords, believed he had made an agreement with the solicitor general last week but it appeared ‘senior ministers’ had objected to it and it had now been ‘repudiated’.
‘The government is seeking to make the promised meaningful vote impossible and that is an act of commission contrary to what ministers have promised,’ he said.