Theresa May’s plan to compromise with pro-EU rebel Tories faces a crisis less than 24 hours after it allowed her to avoid a humiliating commons defeat.
Rebels believe she personally promised to discuss their proposals to give parliament control over Brexit if no deal has been reached by February next year, but today Downing Street said the idea is not on the table.
The assurances Ms May gave the rebels on Tuesday persuaded them to temporarily back away from inflicting a damaging blow on her Brexit plans, but they are warning they will push ahead if she does not give enough ground.
The row blew up as pro-Brexit Conservative MPs also warned the prime minister against going too far in making a settlement with the pro-EU wing, with the prospect of a summer vote-of-no-confidence looming.
Rebels who met Ms May say they were told that all parts fo their proposals, as set out in an amendment written by ex-attorney general Dominic Grieve, would be discussed as they agreed not to rebel on Tuesday.
They say that includes subsection 5c of the Grieve amendment, which if accepted would mean parliament being able to direct the government’s approach if Ms May has still not agreed a deal with the EU with a month to go before Brexit.
But asked whether it is right that 5c is not up for discussion, as some Brexiteers have claimed, her spokesman said on Wednesday that it is “a fair assessment” of the situation.
Rebel MP Anna Soubry took to Twitter to say: “For the avoidance of doubt, the PM said yesterday that clause c of Dominic Grieve’s amendment would be discussed as part of the new amendment to be tabled in the Lords.
“If the PM goes back on that there will be no agreed amendment that I can support.”
Mr Grieve, who was due to meet the solicitor general Robert Buckland to discuss the wording of the new amendment, has also indicated that it is his understanding that 5c is up for discussion.
Another rebel MP said of the spokesman’s comment: “It isn’t true. The prime minister doesn’t agree with it, but it is being discussed.”
Other rebel MPs repeated warnings that if Ms May does not bring forward a plan that clearly matches the spirit of the Grieve plan, they will once again vote against the government in the coming weeks.
The row was precipitated by the Lords last month passing a plan that would have given parliament the power to direct Ms May’s actions if she failed to seal a Brexit deal later this year.
Ministers were demanding Tory MPs vote it out of existence in the Commons on Tuesday, but had also refused to consider the more palatable compromise proposed by Mr Grieve.
It would have instead seen Ms May being tied into a strict timetable of having to set out her own proposals if she failed to seal a deal by November, and then gain parliamentary approval for them – while the stronger powers for MPs to direct her action would only come into play if a deal had still not been reached by February.
The prime minister’s intervention mean rebel MPs allowed the government to defeat the Lords plan last night, but it will now be returned to the upper chamber where it is likely be approved again.
The government can only avoid that if it now brings forward its own proposals along the lines agreed between Ms May and the rebels on Tuesday.
But as soon as she agreed to discuss a compromise with the pro EU-rebels, backbench Brexiteers began raising concerns that she would allow parliament too much control over negotiaions.
The Independent understands that even Brexit secretary David Davis was unhappy with the assurance the prime minister had given, with his department putting out a strongly worded statement saying that the government hands should not be “tied” by parliament.
Conservative arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, spoke in prime minister’s questions on Wednesday to say it is vital that any amendment preserved the separation between the roles of Government and Parliament.