A plot by anti no-deal Brexit MPs to bring forward the meaningful vote on Theresa May’s deal to Thursday has been foiled by the government.
The cross-party group of MPs were plotting to try and speed up the entire Brexit process as they fear the prime minister is attempting to run down the clock towards exit day on March 29, putting pressure on MPs who fear a cliff-edge exit from the EU to back her deal.
The group, led by Labour’s Chris Bryant and Conservative Dominic Grieve, were planning amendments to force a vote on Thursday, to block May from delaying it again, and to force her to return to the Commons within three days of her deal being rejected, as is expected, rather than the three weeks currently set out.
It was earmarked as the latest move in a campaign of what sources called “guerilla warfare” designed to stop a “catastrophic” no-deal Brexit, following Yvette Cooper and Nicky Morgan’s move to change the finance bill on Tuesday to make such an outcome more difficult for the government.
But the government has now tabled its business motion for the Brexit debate that starts on Wednesday, which makes clear that it cannot be amended by anyone other than a minister, stopping the plot in its tracks.
The anti no-deal plotters had believed they had the numbers to defeat the government and bring forward the vote.
Earlier, Bryant and senior Tory Sarah Wollaston said there was no need to have multiple days of extra debate as little had changed over the Christmas break.
May is hoping to win fresh reassurances from the EU on the controversial Irish border backstop before a vote next week.
But Bryant said: “Let’s stop faffing about, let’s get on with it.
“Nothing has changed and we might as well have the vote tomorrow I don’t know why we are having it next week.
“As more time passes the greater the danger becomes.”
Wollaston said having the vote sooner would have unblocked the entire debate and force Jeremy Corbyn’s hand to make an attempt to trigger a general election, and if that fails to potentially back a second referendum as part of a process set out at Labour’s conference last year.
The Commons health committee chair, who supports a so-called People’s Vote, said: “With 80 days until we run out of road and we cannot end up accidentally sliding into no deal with catastrophic consequences.
“It is clear there is no majority for that in parliament and we should not allow government to unreasonably run down the clock.
“Nothing has changed from the EU therefore there is no need for a further five days debate.
“The government will undoubtedly lose that vote and we then need Corbyn to move through the promised procedures, to show some leadership and stop being a leader in hiding.”
Labour had signalled support for any attempt to speed up the process.
A source said: “Jeremy has said repeatedly that we should have the vote as soon as possible.
“So we are sympathetic to efforts by MPs to stop Theresa May recklessly running down the clock.”
Other opposition parties also appeared likely to back the amendments.
But the government appears to have seen off the threat of defeat by tabling a supplementary business motion which simply carries on the debate which May halted before Christmas amid huge opposition.