Theresa May blocked cabinet demands to speed up the stalled Brexit process this week, HuffPost UK has learned.
Brexiteer ministers had expected the withdrawal agreement bill (WAB) to be brought before the Commons, but were overruled by Downing Street.
The prime minister is concerned that MPs could simply vote down the laws at the first attempt, potentially triggering a general election.
She is willing to give talks with Labour another week to reach either a cross-party deal or agreement on backing whatever solution comes out of a fresh round of parliamentary votes on alternatives.
But Brexiteers are desperate to avoid European elections on May 23 and are concerned the WAB would take up to 10 weeks to pass through the Commons and Lords, and that Jeremy Corbyn has no incentive to strike a deal.
The so-called ‘pizza club’ of cabinet Leavers, who hold regular strategy meetings over takeaway slices, have discussed an alternative way of breaking the impasse, by splitting up the withdrawal agreement into different pieces of legislation.
Senior figures say backbenchers have signalled they could switch to backing May’s deal if the controversial Irish backstop was removed.
It could then be passed through the Commons in separate legislation that could make clear MPs’ demands for either a time limit or its replacement with alternative technology-based arrangements for the border on the island of Ireland, giving the PM fresh ammunition to renegotiate Britain’s Brexit deal with the EU.
Cabinet Brexiteers are most welcome to resume their ERG subscriptions so we can keep them fully briefed on why schemes like this don’t workTory backbench Eurosceptic Steve Baker
Number 10 has however all-but-conceded to the EU’s refusal to reopen the deal and government sources think that European elections will now take place.
They see June 30 as a new deadline for passing a Brexit deal through parliament to at least avoid actually sending MEPs to sit in the new Brussels parliament, which begins on July 1.
But the delay to the WAB suggests the second deadline is unlikely to be met.
A Tory source said: “Cabinet is changing its mind from one week to the next.
“The only thing that stays the same is our inability to get on with leaving.
“If we don’t introduce the WAB we can’t say we’ve tried everything before the EU elections.”
Steve Baker, a leading member of the backbench Tory Brexiteer European Research Group (ERG), appeared to criticise ministers for failing to take more drastic action than trying to split up the withdrawal deal.
He told HuffPost UK: “Cabinet Brexiteers are most welcome to resume their ERG subscriptions so we can keep them fully briefed on why schemes like this don’t work.”
Labour MP Virendra Sharma, who supports the anti-Brexit Best for Britain campaign, said: “Number 10 clearly know that bringing back their doomed deal will lead to nothing but another humiliating defeat.
“But the cabinet Leavers seem to be a bit more naïve. The broken up withdrawal agreement was rejected only a few weeks ago, and stripping out the backstop is a request that has repeatedly caused a breakdown in talks with the EU and further time-wasting in parliament.
“If these people are really serious about speeding up the stalled Brexit process, they’d put the question of leaving the EU to the public so that they can have the final say.
“Then parliament can be told what the people really want, three years into this sorry saga.”