Theresa May faces defeat by MPs over no deal Brexit

Theresa May was today hurtling towards another bruising Commons defeat after John McDonnell said Labour was “highly likely” to join forces with Conservative rebels to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

The Opposition’s move to get behind an amendment designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit on March 29 dramatically increased the prospects of a postponement.

The shadow chancellor praised as “sensible” an amendment tabled by Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper with Tory ex-minister Nicholas Boles that seeks to allow legislation to suspend the withdrawal process until the end of the year unless a deal is struck with Brussels that avoids economic chaos.

“I think it’s increasingly likely already that we’ll have to take that option because the Government has run the clock down,” Mr McDonnell had told BBC2’s Newsnight.

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A senior Labour source said a final decision would not be made today but confirmed Mr McDonnell’s assessment.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox warned that rebel amendments posed a “real danger” constitutionally.

Accusing some MPs of plotting to stay in the EU, he said such an act would be politically “calamitous” and worse for the country than a no-deal Brexit.

But Mr Boles urged rebel Tories to come forwards to ensure victory. He tweeted: “Front bench Labour support is very welcome but not sufficient to secure victory.

“We will need other opposition parties to follow suit and a good many Conservatives too to join them.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel will tomorrow hold talks in Berlin with Brussels chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier amid growing signs that European leaders would back a delay to Brexit.

A German government spokeswoman said: “We need to know what Britain wants and how it sees the way ahead and that is the case in particular for the question of a delay.

The key amendments and their chance of success

Spelman/Dromey: Tory MP Dame Caroline Spelman and Labour’s  Jack Dromey want to see Parliament call on the Government to rule out a  “no-deal” Brexit. But it would be  non-binding. Backed by letter by 225 MPs, with 54 (including 11 Tories) signing it. Chances of success: High.

Cooper/Boles: Seeks to overturn parliamentary convention by letting MPs launch a Bill to delay Brexit to the end of 2019 and avoid no-deal. It would be binding. Backed by 58 MPs from five parties, with seven Tories including Nicky Morgan. Chances: Good but fraught with complexities.

Grieve: Drawn up by ex-attorney general Dominic Grieve to suspend standing orders and let MPs take control on six dates in February and March to pass motions. Backed by  40 MPs, including Tory ex-minister Justine Greening. Chances: Resisted by traditionalists.

Corbyn: Labour’s official motion calls on the Government to stage votes on the party plan for a customs union and a second referendum. Chances: Poor, with no Tory rebels on board.

Benn: Labour’s Hilary Benn wants “indicative votes” to see which Brexit options would get Commons backing. These could include a Norway-style deal and a second referendum. Chances: Needs more support.

Murrison: Tory Brexiteer Andrew Murrison wants the Irish backstop to have an expiry date. Chances: Speaker may not select it for debate.

“We will deal with that question only if Britain wants a delay.”

The Prime Minister has indicated she plans to impose a strict three-line whip next week when MPs vote on amendments designed to avert a no-deal Brexit on March 29. But Cabinet members fear this would put them in an “impossible position”.

One told the Evening Standard: “If the Government tries to close off all the options to stop a no-deal Brexit from happening, that will place significant numbers at all levels in an impossible position. But with goodwill from all sides, there is no need to be in that situation next week.” Another Cabinet minister appealed to Mrs May to avoid a split by giving a “Government reassurance” that Britain will not simply crash out of the EU “I expect it will come,” the minister said.

Eleven Tory rebels signed an amendment put down by former party chairwoman Dame Caroline Spelman and Labour backbencher Jack Dromey that calls on the Government to leave only when a deal is struck.

Seven Tories backed the cross-party amendment put down by Ms Cooper and Mr Boles.

Sterling strengthened 0.5 per cent against the dollar to $1.3024 — the highest level since mid-November — on the view that a no-deal Brexit can be avoided if Parliament exerts greater control over the process. It also rose for a third consecutive day against the euro to 87.33 pence.

Analyst Neil Wilson from said: “The latest is that Labour will support a move to prevent a no-deal exit. This raises the spectre of a delay to Brexit, which seems to have been taken as a reason to bid up the pound.”