The third House of Commons vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal could be pulled next week if the government does not believe it can win, international trade secretary Liam Fox has said.
“It would be difficult to justify having a vote if we knew we were gong to lose it,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge.
The UK prime minister is expected to table a third Commons vote on her Brexit deal next week — probably on Tuesday.
The deal has been heavily defeated twice in the Commons after large-scale rebellions by Eurosceptic Conservative MPs and the persistent opposition of the Democratic Unionist party’s 10 MPs.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has confirmed his party would whip MPs in favour of an amendment tabled by backbenchers Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, which would see Mrs May’s deal voted through on the condition it is then put to the public in a second referendum.
He also suggested the party would table a second no-confidence motion in the government if Mrs May lost a third vote on her deal.
“We’ve had one confidence vote already,” he told Sky. “The government is apparently going to bring its proposals once again to parliament this week. I suspect they’ll be defeated again, the whole process they are doing is running down the clock.
“I think at that point a confidence motion would be appropriate. At that point we should say there has to be a general election.”
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mrs May called on MPs to make an “honourable compromise” and support her deal when it returns to the Commons.
She said failure to support the deal would mean “we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever” and called on MPs to make an “honourable compromise”.
“We could and should have been leaving the EU on March 29,” she said. “But it is something the British people would accept if it led swiftly to delivering Brexit. The alternative if Parliament cannot agree the deal by that time is much worse.”
Mrs May said that if she could win parliament’s backing for her deal next week, she would ask only for a three-month extension beyond the scheduled departure date of March 29, thus avoiding any need to take part in the European elections.
She said it would be a “potent symbol of parliament’s collective political failure” if the UK was forced to accept a far longer delay.
“If parliament can find a way to back the Brexit deal before European Council, the UK will leave the EU this spring, without having to take part in the European elections, and we can get on with building our future relationship with the EU.
“If it cannot, we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”
In a boost to Mrs May’s efforts to rescue her deal, Esther McVey, who resigned as work and pensions secretary last year in protest against the agreement, confirmed she will now vote for it.
“No deal has been removed; Article 50 will be extended; so the choice before us is, this deal, or no Brexit whatsoever — and to not have Brexit, you go against the democratic vote of the people,” Ms McVey told Sky.
The DUP leadership, which has been in discussions with the government over the weekend, said there were “still issues to be discussed”.
Mrs May’s allies believe that if the DUP backs the deal, it will convince rebel Tory Eurosceptics to fall into line next week.
The party held talks on Friday with senior UK government figures including Chancellor Philip Hammond, in a possible sign the government may be preparing a more generous financial offer to the DUP to continue the party’s agreement to prop up Mrs May’s minority administration when the current agreement expires this year.
A DUP spokesman said: “We are in discussions with the government to ensure Northern Ireland is not separated out from the rest of the United Kingdom as we leave the European Union. Contrary to some reports, we are not discussing cash.
“There are still issues to be addressed in our discussions.”