David Gauke has said the government will only ask MPs to vote for a fourth time on a Brexit deal if it thinks will win.
Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the powerful backbench Tory 1922 committee, yesterday suggested Theresa May planned to hold a vote before the European elections on May 23.
But asked by BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Thursday morning if this was accurate, Gauke said “we will see”.
“We want to bring it back as quickly as we can but we obviously want to bring it back to succeed,” he said of the deal.
“There are discussions with the Labour Party, if we are in position whereby we can win a vote and that we can proceed on this basis, then I am sure we will want to bring it back as quickly as possible.”
But there is little sign the cross-party talks are close to a breakthrough. Jeremy Corbyn is set to pull the plug on negotiations unless the government offers real changes.
The prime minister yesterday rebuffed demands to set out a timetable for her departure amid growing pressure from Tory MPs to make way for a new leader.
In order to buy more time, May has offered showdown talks with the 1922 executive next week.
Gauke, who has previously said he would like to be chancellor but has dismissed suggestions he will run to succeed May, said it would be a “mistake” to change prime minister “at this point”.
“I think the issue here is that her going isn’t going to change the parliamentary arithmetic,” he said.
Ahead of the European elections, in which the Tories are expected to be severely punished by voters, Gauke warned his colleagues they must “avoid the temptation to be a populist party”.
He added that when the Conservatives choose their next leader, the focus should be on “what is the role of the UK in a post-Brexit world and who is the best candidate to defeat Jeremy Corbyn”.