Government confident on Brexit votes despite threat of rebel MPs

Senior government figures are confident of winning a series of crucial House of Commons votes on the Brexit bill, despite threats of a revolt by pro-remain MPs.

Ministers and aides indicated that they remain “quietly reassured” that they have the numbers to pass the EU withdrawal bill when it returns to the lower chamber on Tuesday.

As parliament enters a momentous week and a final vote on the bill, the government is seeking to vote down amendments from the House of Lords which were meant to soften the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Ken Clarke, the veteran MP and former chancellor, on Sunday asked rebel MPs to withstand pressure from Tory whips.

But one informed source said that No 10 believes it will have “the numbers to get through” votes on Tuesday and Wednesday without a major defeat.

“It will be close, but it will be done,” the source said.

Labour is seeking to keeping two crucial amendments following the 15 government defeats in the House of Lords – to maintain a role in the customs union, and to guarantee a role for parliament in approving a final deal.

Brexiter Dominic Raab, the housing minister, said he was reasonably confident the government had the support to see off the revolt.

“People thinking about voting against the government this week need to think very seriously about it,” he said on BBC One’s Sunday Politics programme.

Clarke denied that a defeat would lead to a general election, opening the door to a Labour government, adding that it would actually strengthen Theresa May’s hand in facing down ministers who want a hard Brexit.

“Nobody in the House of Commons wants a general election. Most Labour MPs are as terrified of the idea of a Corbyn government as I am,” he told the Sunday Politics programme.

Labour is facing a revolt of its own this week, and has tabled a bid to force the government to negotiate a Brexit deal where the UK retains “full access” to the EU’s single market that would ensure “no new impediments” to trade.

The move is designed to convince potential Labour rebels not to support a House of Lords amendment to keep Britain in the European Economic Area.

Labour will whip its MPs to abstain on that vote but could still see MPs back the Norway option of single market membership.

Keir Starmer used an appearance on the The Andrew Marr Show to urge Labour to back away from the amendment.

“If you are in the EEA, you are not in a customs union with the EU and to test that proposition, I went to Norway and then I went to the Norway-Sweden border to see for myself,” he said.

“There is infrastructure there, there are checks there, you have to hand in your papers.

“It is totally incompatible with a solemn commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland.”

Labour’s hopes of striking a blow to May’s plans faded a little on Saturday night when the prominent Tory remainer Amber Rudd urged her party’s MPs to back the government in the votes, due to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.

In a joint article with the Brexiter Iain Duncan Smith, the former home secretary warned that defeat could lead the government to fall.

“Jeremy Corbyn will do everything he can to stop us. That includes cynically trying to frustrate the Brexit process for his own political ends,” they wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.

Some pro-remain Conservatives fear that a defeat on the customs union this week could enable Boris Johnson to take over the party.

One former minister told the Observer: “It is a political calculation. If we were to defeat her, does that weaken her and give the European Research Group [the hardline Brexiter grouping] more opportunities to stick their knife in to her?”

May’s working majority in the Commons is 14 and relies on the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party.

In a further development, Vince Cable, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, claimed that a “potentially catastrophic” no-deal Brexit is becoming increasingly possible.

As his party prepares to fight the Lewisham East byelection on a platform of guaranteeing a referendum on any eventual deal, Cable said that the longer the government appeared deadlocked over Brexit, the greater risk there was of a no-deal departure.

“I’d always assumed that the government would more or less get something, a divorce settlement plus a vague commitment to sort things out – Brexit in name but probably not in fact,” Cable said.

This article provided by NewsEdge.