A senior Conservative MP has broken ranks to announce he will defy Theresa May to stop her walking away from the EU without a deal on Brexit.
Committee chair Neil Carmichael said he was ready to vote with Labour at the committee stage of the Article 50 bill because he is not willing to “sign a blank cheque” for the Prime Minister.
Mrs May has vowed to walk away from talks in Brussels if the remaining 27 EU states refuse to deliver a “good deal” for Britain, insisting “no deal is better than a bad deal”.
But there are growing calls on the Tory benches for the Prime Minister to bring an early version of the deal to parliament so MPs can force her back to the negotiating table if it is not good enough.
With a majority of just 16 even a small rebellion could pose a serious threat to the Government’s plan and lead to a major showdown on the Tory benches.
Mr Carmichael, who voted last night to trigger the Brexit process at the bill’s second reading, is the first Tory MP to speak openly about defying the Government at next week’s committee stage.
“I’m looking very carefully at the amendments to ensure that Parliament is given a meaningful debate and decision at the end of the two-year period,” the Education Select Committee chair told the Independent.
“I’m very keen for Parliament to have that opportunity to assess and decide on any proposal – or no proposal – that may arise at the end of that two-year period.”
In a warning to Mrs May he added: “In short, I’m not going to sign a blank cheque.”
‘WE MAY NEED MORE TIME’
He joins other prominent backbenchers with his call not to hand Mrs May the licence to let Britain crash out of the EU without a deal.
Earlier this week former business minister Anna Soubry said: “I want assurances from the Government that, in the event of no good deal being reached, all options will be placed before this House, and that we, on behalf of all our constituents and our businesses, will decide what happens next. We may need more time.”
And former attorney general Dominic Grieve said: “I worry very much that we should have a proper process to help to engage the House and the country in what we’re going to do.”
According to the Times, pro-EU Tory MPs could also vote with the opposition on a range of other Brexit issues – including to protect the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.
A senior Tory told the paper “sorting out the endgame” during line by line scrutiny of the bill over three days in the Commons next week would be “critical”.
They added: “I am surprised at how many colleagues are very, very unhappy.”
Another rebel told the paper: “No 10 should be scared. There are easily more than half a dozen who could vote against the government and lots more abstentions.”
TORIES ‘SPLITTING APART’
Dozens of amendments to the 137-word bill have been pencilled in by opposition parties, including 50 from the SNP alone, but they stand little chance of success.
Labour has proposed its own handful, including a unilateral guarantee for EU citizens’ rights in Britain and the protection of workers’ rights in primary legislation.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said this morning that the Tories would be “splitting apart” at committee stage since there was deep disagreement in the party.
A change of focus would be welcome for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, after 47 of his MPs ignored his three-line whip and voted against triggering Brexit last night.