Theresa May makes last-ditch plea for Tory unity as she faces humiliating Brexit defeat

Posted On: 
14th February 2019

Theresa May has begged her backbenchers to unite behind her as pro-Brexit Tory rebels prepared to inflict an embarrassing defeat on the Government.

Theresa May has run out of time to alter the motion that has sparked anger among her backbenchers
PA Images

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said the Commons needed to "send a clear message to Brussels" by supporting a government motion in a vote tonight.

Members of the hardline European Research Group have threatened to rebel, claiming the motion - which endorses “the approach to leaving the EU” backed by the Commons on 29 January - appears to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

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In a vote that that night, MPs backed calls to replace the Irish backstop plan with “alternative arrangements” - but they also said a no-deal Brexit should be ruled out.

ERG representatives warned Tory chief whip Julian Smith that unless the wording of the motion was changed, they would vote against the Government.

But a spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “It’s important that MPs support the Prime Minister in order to send another clear message to Brussels on the need to address Parliament’s concerns about the backstop so we can leave with a deal on time on 29 March.”

He added: “It’s not our intention to leave without a deal and we are working hard to secure a deal, but the legal default position is that we will leave on 29 March.

“Yesterday, in response to a question about whether no-deal remains on the table, I said ‘yes’.”

An ERG source told PoliticsHome the Government was “creating an unnecessary fight” and demanded Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay offers assurances when he opens the debate this afternoon.

They added: “I don’t think we are in the same lobby as the Government tonight unless they say something in the next few hours.”

Pro-Brexit Tory MP Lee Rowley said: “We are all genuinely scratching our heads this morning asking what on earth they are doing.”

A Government source said Mr Barclay will be "addressing their concerns" when opens the debate.

The no-deal motion at the end of January, tabled by Tory former minister Caroline Spelman, said it “rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship”.

The other motion that passed was tabled by Tory backbencher Sir Graham Brady and called for the hated Irish backstop part of the Brexit deal "to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”.

Neither amendment has legal weight but they tell the Government what MPs want and indicate what kind of deal would eventually pass the House.