Theresa May insists she does not regret last year's catastrophic General Election
As two massive days of votes on the landmark EU Withdrawal Bill begin, the PM made a desperate appeal for unity among her feuding party.
Remain and Leave backing Tories struck a brief truce last night to agree on compromises to defeat 14 different Lords amendments that would have ripped up the government’s entire exit negotiation.
But the last minute fudge will barely last a month, as diehard pro-EU Tories vowed to push major changes on more the Trade and Customs bills in July.
Addressing a special meeting of the 1922 Committee of all Tory MPs, the PM said: “This is not just about party unity, this is about the national interest.
“We must think about the message Parliament will send to the European Union this week.
“I am trying to negotiate the best deal for Britain. But if the Lords amendments are allowed to stand, that negotiating position will be undermined.”
Government minister Robert Buckland, who is in charge of the bill, added: “We all hang together or we all hang separately”.
Downing Street had feared rebel Tories would unite with Labour today to enforce a symbolic victory with warm words about keeping the UK in a customs union.
But the Europhiles promised to vote with the government instead last night when it agreed to instead report back to the Commons on the progress made on “a customs arrangement”.
MPs signing the new amendment include Brexit-backers Jacob Rees-Mogg, Sir Bill Cash and Sir Benard Jenkin and former-Remainers Nicky Morgan, Stephen Hammond and Sir Oliver Letwin.
Brexiteers’ leader Jacob Rees-Mogg welcomed the amendment as part of a “new collegiate spirit” in the party.
But rebel leader Ms Morgan said the new customs amendment would “buy time” for Tories who still want to stay in the Customs Union.
In a second compromise with Tory rebels, ministers have also pledged to enshrine in law today a meaningful vote for MPs on the final Brexit deal before the European Parliament validates it.
In exchange, the rebel will agree to sink another powerful Lords amendment – pushed through by former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Hailsham – that would have seen control for the talks with Brussels handed over to Parliament.
GOVERNMENT COULD STILL BE DEFEATED BY TORY REBELS
It emerged last night that the government could still suffer a devastating defeat today on another Lords amendment, despite the
compromise on the customs wording.
Six Tory rebels are still unhappy with ministers’ offer on a meaningful vote on the final deal, and are demanding more powers for
But No10 have insisted that Brexiteer MPs will not allow the PM to go any further on letting the Commons and Lords alter the eventual deal’s shape.
The stand off could go right down to the wire when MPs vote on Lord Hailsham’s amendment at around 4pm today.
The six are Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen, Antoinette Sandbach and Sarah Wollaston are holding out.
They are insisting that Parliament must be able to dictate what happens next if Mrs May’s deal is voted down, meaning No10 would have lost control of the Brexit negotiation and Brussels will be effectively dealing with MPs from then onwards.
If passed today, it would even have given the Commons and Lords the right to halt Brexit altogether.
In a more lighthearted moment during the PM’s 1922 meeting, senior Tory backbencher Keith Simpson suggested Mrs May shoot warring Cabinet Ministers Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond.
The backbencher urged the PM to host a paint-balling fight to settle Cabinet differences at the Chequers away day next month.
And he joked that former Army Officer and Tory MP Johnny Mercer “could provide you with some live ammunition if you want it.”
A grinning PM thanked the MP “for his helpful suggestion.”
As many as 12 pro-Brexit Labour MPs are also thinking about abstaining today to help the government’s numbers.
Labour Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer last night urged MPs to come out in force against the Government on both the customs union and meaningful vote because of “wavering” by would-be Tory rebels.
He told MPs he was concerned about reports Tory rebels may now fall away as there were only likely to be “two crunch votes”.
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