Senior Remain-backing Tories have said they will rally behind Theresa May at the next reading of the so-called Brexit Bill, pouring cold water on suggestions of a rebellion.
Labour’s 11th hour policy shift towards a soft Brexit has been seen by some as an opportunity to thwart passage of the EU Withdrawal Bill in a move that could even put pressure on May’s position.
It is expected that Labour MPs will be whipped to vote against the bill, meaning fewer than 20 rebel Tories would have to dissent for the government to lose the vote.
But senior Europhile Tories have told City A.M. they will rally behind the Prime Minister when the bill receives its second reading next week.
One said: “If anything, Labour’s stance makes it less likely [we will vote against the bill]. The last thing any of us want to do is support the Labour front bench.
“It’s completely about political positioning – if amendments are put forward by Labour backbenchers, that might be one thing, but anything from Corbyn and McDonnell is guaranteed to get us all in one lobby.”
Another claimed Labour’s position did not go far enough to win over possible rebels. “I can see the usual business of amendments taking place, but I can’t see a natural alliance between Tory Remainers and Labour on this – the Labour amendments are not that significant,” he said.
“I don’t see what there is to fight over. If there was something substantive to Labour’s position – for example, that we would never come out of the single market – there might be a reasonto rebel, but it’s not even that strong.”
May could still be unseated if she lurched into another scandal, but Tories were now expecting there to be “bumpy stability through to 2019”, he added.
This equivocal backing comes as the Prime Minister continues her trade delegation to Japan, where she said the government was hoping to transfer existing EU trade deals to the UK “certainly initially” after Brexit.
“Even if we start on the basis of an existing trade deal that a country has with the EU, it will be up to the United Kingdom and that country if we wish to renegotiate and change those terms in the future,” she said, stressing the need for business certainty.
However, her comments were seized upon by opponents of Brexit.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said: “Leave campaigners like Boris Johnson told us that a global Britain needed to leave the EU to sign new and better trade deals but it turns out the best the government is aiming for is to copy and paste deals we already have through our membership of the EU.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable added: "Rather than jet-setting around the globe, Liam Fox might as well be left in a room with a photocopier.”
The talks, which are scheduled for September 15, will allow captains of industry to offer their thoughts on the government’s progress with Brussels and its recent flurry of position papers.