Two camps of rebel MPs seeking to stop a no-deal Brexit and give parliament more control will join forces to mount a powerful ambush on Theresa May’s plan, sources have told HuffPost UK.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Conservative Dominic Grieve had been planning separate amendments to give MPs greater power to bring about a Brexit plan B.
But following a meeting on Monday, three MPs said supporters of the two plans had agreed to come together and back a pincer movement to rule out no-deal and take control of the process.
The agreement to join forces by tabling amendments to May’s plan B, which will be voted on next Tuesday January 29, poses a significant threat to the prime minister’s plan to seek fresh concessions on the controversial Irish border backstop from the EU, and push a deal through before leaving on March 29.
One MP involved in the discussions said: “It looks like the forces of enlightenment will be advancing on several compatible fronts when it comes to amendments.”
The group led by Cooper and Tory former minister Nick Boles was seeking to give time for a bill to suspend the Article 50 withdrawal process if there is no new deal with Brussels by the end of February.
Another more radical amendment drawn up by former attorney general Grieve would allow a motion by a minority of 300 MPs - from at least five parties and including 10 Tories - to be debated as the first item of Commons business the next day.
It is thought this could be used to stage so-called “indicative votes” on different Brexit alternatives, such as a ‘Norway-plus’ plan or a second referendum, to try to find a parliamentary majority for a Brexit plan B.
One MP who backed Grieve’s plan was understood to be concerned that the move led by Cooper was too vague and would simply kick the can down the road, with the impasse in parliament still needing to be resolved.
But now the two groups are to work together to win support for compatible amendments to strengthen parliament’s role and find a way through the chaos.
Labour has so far not committed to backing any amendments not tabled by its own frontbench.
But Jeremy Corbyn signalled on Monday the party could support Cooper and Grieve’s plans, a move which would likely mean defeat for the government and victory for the rebels.
The Labour leader told the Commons: “We will, as we have said consistently from the beginning, back amendments that seek to rule out the disaster of no deal.”
Meanwhile, the government’s trade bill, thought to be a critical piece of legislation to deliver Brexit by March 29, was stalled in the House of Lords in what the government called a “tactic of obstruction”.
In a highly unusual move, peers voted by 243 to 208, a majority of 35, to block the bill’s report stage until they get fuller details of the government’s plans for post-Brexit trade deals
The government will now have to give more details on how international trade agreements will be struck and scrutinised after Brexit, with a Labour source suggesting this could take the form of a white paper.
Labour’s leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith of Basildon, who moved the motion said: “I was very disappointed that the government didn’t support my motion for peers to have the information necessary to allow us to complete our work on the trade bill.
“The start of committee was a reasonable moment to ask for a framework of government trade policy in time for report – in late February, just over a month from Brexit day.
“It’s also a bit rich for the government to accuse us of delay, when it has taken an unprecedented 132 days since Lords second reading to schedule the Committee.”