MPs are expected to hold their crucial vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal next Tuesday, with a Brexit minister insisting the government still expects to win the support of parliament, despite intense pressure from both sides of the argument.
With the debate on May’s plan, postponed from December, due to resume this Wednesday, the Commons had been expected to hold a vote the next week. The date has now been set for next Tuesday, 15 January, government sources said.
Kwasi Kwarteng, a junior Brexit minister, said he still believed May would win the vote, dismissing the idea that the prime minister was preparing to seek approval from MPs again if she lost the first time.
Asked if May would seek fresh concessions from the EU and return to parliament if she lost, Kwarteng told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday: “The plan is to win the vote on Tuesday, or whenever it comes. The plan and the focus and the objective is to win the vote.”
The vote was called off in December amid a widespread consensus May would lose heavily. Kwarteng rejected the idea that the numbers still did not look good for Downing Street, despite the continued opposition of the government’s DUP partners.
“I don’t accept that at all,” he said. “A week, as someone said, is a very long time in politics. We don’t know what the numbers are. We got a week. The situation, as it always does, has developed, it evolves and I’m very hopeful the deal will be voted through next week.”
May, who spoke to a series of EU leaders over Christmas, was “in listening mode”, and aware of the concerns about her deal, Kwarteng said. But he declined to say if the prime minister may have extracted new concessions which could win over MPs.
He said: “It’s an ongoing discussion. I’m not privy to those discussions that the prime minister is having with EU leaders. There are limits to my knowledge, I’m afraid.”
May is due to hold a series of receptions with MPs at No 10 this week. Among those will be one for 209 cross-party MPs who signed a letter to the prime minister, asking her to rule out a no-deal Brexit, which remains the default position if her deal is rejected.
It was organised by the Conservative former cabinet minister Dame Caroline Spelman and Labour’s Jack Dromey, with the pair warning no deal would cause significant economic harm.
The leading pro-Brexit Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin told Today that the sentiment of the letter was “lame”. He said: “Leaving the EU is set in the law. Many of the people who have signed the letter this morning saying they don’t want a no-deal Brexit have actually voted through the legislation that means we leave on March 29 with or without a formal article 50 withdrawal agreement.”
With a testing exercise for no deal taking place on Monday morning, with Manston airfield near Ramsgate in Kent being used as a holding bay for 11 lorries, mimicking measures to ease congestion on roads to Channel ports, Boris Johnson called for a no-deal departure to be welcomed.
The former foreign secretary used his weekly Daily Telegraph column to argue that such an eventuality was “closest to what people actually voted for” in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
“When 17.4m chose to leave the EU, they didn’t vote to stay locked in the customs union or the single market. There was no suggestion that we would pay £39bn for nothing, without even a sniff of a trade deal with Brussels,” he wrote.
People were dismissing the “downright apocalyptic” forecasts of no deal to increasingly support it as an option, Johnson wrote.
He wrote: “For weeks the public have been regaled with this stuff – and yet an astonishing thing has happened: the grimmer the warnings, and the more systematic the efforts to make their flesh creep, the greater has been their indifference and their resolve.”