Theresa May fights to save her Brexit plan amid warnings of another defeat

Prime minister Theresa May. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Prime minister Theresa May. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images

Theresa May is battling to save her Brexit strategy as she is warned that she faces another defeat on Tuesday.

Tory Brexiteers said rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement was 'inevitable' unless the prime minister could secure significant changes to the Northern Ireland backstop.

'Technical' talks between officials took place in Brussels over the weekend and May spoke to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Sunday night, although a Downing Street source said the negotiations were 'deadlocked'.

Some senior Tories said that the PM should postpone the 'meaningful vote' rather than risk another damaging reverse.

Instead she was being urged to table a 'conditional' motion setting out the terms for dealing with the backstop issue which parliament would be prepared to accept.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, told the Times that it 'would not be a foolish way to proceed'.

He added: 'I think a meaningful vote with an addendum saying this House will support a deal if such and such is done might be a way of uniting the party or limiting the scale of the defeat.'

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Former chief whip Andrew Mitchell told the paper: 'Anything that avoids what looks like a massive defeat on Tuesday is worth considering.'

Meanwhile, public health minister Steve Brine has warned that he will resign unless Tory MPs are given a free vote in a vote expected later in the week on whether Britain should leave the EU without a deal.

'I think a free vote would be very smart,' he told BBC Radio 4's The Westminster Hour.

'I would find it very difficult, actually impossible to be part of a policy that was pursuing actively no-deal.'

Delaying the meaningful vote would be another humiliation for the prime minister after senior ministers spent the weekend insisting it would go ahead as planned.

May had already postponed it once from December, only to see it resoundingly defeated the following month by a majority of 230.

With less than three weeks to Brexit Day on March 29 - when Britain is due to leave the EU - any delay would raise renewed questions as to whether there was any way she could get her deal through the Commons.

May has said if she loses the vote on Tuesday, there will be further votes on Wednesday on whether the UK should leave with no-deal and on Thursday on whether they should seek an extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process.

Many at Westminster believe that in that event MPs would vote to delay Britain's departure - to the fury of Brexiteers.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt warned at the weekend that they risked losing Brexit altogether unless they fell in line and backed the deal.

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