EU Withdrawal bill "a warm up" for Tory rebels as Trade and Customs bills set to return before summer recess

 
Catherine Neilan
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The EU Withdrawal Bill may be a damp squib, but that doesn't mean the government can relax (Source: Getty)

The return of a critical piece of Brexit legislation to the Commons will be a "warm up" to the bigger battles faced by the government, MPs have warned.

After being defeated 15 times in the House of Lords, the EU Withdrawal Bill is to be debated for a second time on 12 and 13 June. Among the number of amendments being discussed is Labour's demand that the UK negotiate "full access" to the Single Market after Brexit.

But Conservative MPs played down suggestions there would be a rebellion. One said government had "reached out and sought compromises". Would-be mutineers are also planning to back down over fears that Theresa May's "perilous position" could force her out of Number 10.

"The Prime Minister's position is weak and it may be that people think she has got enough problems without defeating her on the Kerr amendment [which calls for an "option" to remain within the customs union], which actually is pretty bloody tame," said one. "Certainly I'm keen to make sure that Theresa May's position as Prime Minister is not weakened in any way because of events over the backstop paper."

"The last thing we would want is to lose our Prime Minister - it would be the most deeply reckless act."

A Conservative colleague agreed, telling City A.M. he would "watch and wait".

A third echoed this. "We are watching what happens in the next few days... [but] next week may not be time to have a full scale battle."

However MPs said the Trade Bill and Customs Bill, which are being brought forward before summer recess at the end of July, could see fireworks.

A new amendment tabled by Tory MP Stephen Hammond has the backing of 13 other MPs, including Caroline Spelman, who represents Meriden, home to Jaguar Land Rover. The amendment calls for the UK to become a member of the European Free Trade Association and continue as a signatory of the EEA before withdrawal.

Former minister Hammond has long argued the case for this proposal, saying it would respect the results of the referendum while reducing disruption

Sources suggested there were a further five-to-10 MPs who have indicated they would vote for the amendment, including some "within government".

May has a tiny working majority of only 14, which relies on the support of the DUP's 10 MPs.

Further MPs had been put off by death threats, MPs said, pointing to at least two colleagues who had been forced to call in the police and "would not vote as they want to vote because they are frightened for their physical safety" as well as their family's.

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