Up to 20 Tory MPs are threatening to defy Government whips in a crunch division tomorrow by backing a call for a “meaningful vote” in Parliament on any eventual deal agreed with the EU.
The Prime Minister’s allies fear the move is bid give MPs and peers the power to block Brexit in the final weeks before the country’s scheduled departure from the EU in March 2019.
Mrs May’s spokesman insisted ministers were ready to listen to rebel concerns about the flagship legislation.
“The Government position has been throughout that we are listening to MPs and we are having conversations with them, and where we think the legislation can be improved, we are prepared to take it on board,” the spokesman said.
“I think what the MPs are asking for is clarity. We are looking at the amendment and will respond to it in due course.”
The offer of talks came after leading rebel Dominic Grieve insisted he would not “back down” in the row.
Mrs May has promised that Parliament will get a chance to vote on the final deal she is hoping to agree with the EU but is resisting demands for her pledge to be enshrined in EU Withdrawal Bill.
A senior Tory source indicated that ministers could be willing to set out a timetable for the votes on the deal if Mr Grieve withdraws his proposed amendment calling for a “meaningful vote”.
“We might be able to say when certain votes will take place,” the source said.
Earlier yesterday, Mr Grieve insisted he was determined to force a vote on the issue.
“I think there are quite a few who may support me – I think enough, if this comes to a vote, to defeat the Government,” the former attorney general told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.
“I think there is a real possibility that that will happen.”
Mr Grieve denied that his amendment was an attempt to stop Brexit going ahead.
He said he tabled the proposed clause to prevent ministers assuming extra powers and avoiding parliamentary scrutiny.
“To keep this power in in the form which it is at the moment is plainly wrong,” he said.
“I don’t see any possibility of my backing down on this at all. I will vote for my amendment. I don’t know whether I will be successful or not but I think I must push it forward.
“I don’t want to defeat the Government. It is not my desire to do this, I would much prefer the Government to listen to what we have been saying, accept the amendment, and, at a later stage, the Government can always correct it if it wants to.”
Former Tory Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith accused the rebels of “grandstanding”.
“I think this is looking for ways to derail the bill,” he told The World At One.
“There comes a moment when really grandstanding has to stop. Tying the Government’s hands in the way that he would wish to tie them so early on is quite wrong.”
Meanwhile, EU Council President Donald Tusk warned that Britain and the EU face a “race against time” to conclude a trade deal by the Brexit date in March 2019.
In a letter to the leaders of the 27 nations remaining in the EU, the Eurocrat said: “The conclusion of the first phase of negotiations is moderate progress, since we only have 10 months left to determine the transition period and our future relations with the UK.
“This will be a furious race against time, where again our unity will be key.”