The prime minister’s proposals to give ministers the power to go back on key sections of the “oven ready” withdrawal agreement he negotiated and signed have sparked a major backlash from his own MPs.
On Monday, Rehman Chishti quit as the PM’s religion envoy, with the Brexiteer former barrister insisting that “if we give our word, then we must honour it”. His resignation will add pressure to the PM, as rebels threaten to derail his Internal Market Bill, which comes to the Commons later today.
One MP told HuffPost UK there were “definitely more than 40 angry” Tories who could join Labour in voting against the government’s wishes, putting the PM at risk of a first Commons defeat since December’s election.
The PM has responded to the rebellion by choosing to open the debate on the Bill on Monday afternoon, instead of business secretary Alok Sharma, and to take questions from rebellious backbenchers.
Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband will respond for Labour after Keir Starmer had to self isolate, after a member of his household showed symptoms of coronavirus.
Johnson attempted to calm Tory rebels in a Zoom chat on Friday but the backlash has grown over the weekend, with ex-PM David Cameron and his former attorney general Geoffrey Cox sharply criticising the plans.
The other living former prime ministers - Tories Sir John Major and Theresa May, and Labour’s Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, have also voiced opposition to the plans.
Asked why the PM had decided to replace Sharma in opening the debate, his official spokesperson said: “It is a critical piece of legislation for the United Kingdom and as the prime minister has been doing over the course of the last week he will be setting that out to the House of Commons.”
Rebels are coalescing around an amendment proposed by senior Tory and Commons justice committee chair Bob Neill, which would give MPs a veto over powers in the Bill coming into force.
But some hardened opponents of the plans do not even believe that amendment, to be voted on next week, goes far enough.
One Tory predicted as many as 20-30 Tories could oppose the Bill outright at second reading, its first Commons stage, tonight.
A further 20 could abstain, they suggested, putting the Bill at risk of defeat in its first vote.
But other observers feel many rebels will largely keep their powder dry until next week’s vote on Neill’s amendment, and possibly others.