A cross-party group of MPs is reportedly plotting to seize control of the Brexit negotiations as the countdown to vote on Theresa May's deal fast approaches.
Senior backbenchers, including former minister Nick Boles and Labour MP Dominic Grieve, are reportedly spearheading efforts to shake up the Commons rulebook so that backbenchers' motions take precedence over government business – a move that could see the suspension of article 50 or the reversal of the referendum result.
Ministers are likely to be buoyed by the fact that the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, recently broke with precedent when he allowed MPs to vote on an amendment tabled by Grieve that will force May to come back to the Commons within three days with a Plan B if her deal is rejected on Tuesday. Originally the timeframe was 21 days.
The plot, first reported by the Sunday Times, reportedly has the support of Bercow. The newspaper reported that Grieve visited the speaker in his official residence last Tuesday.
However, the reports were dismissed by one Tory MP, remainer Anna Soubry, who tweeted that the speculation was part of a "nasty smear campaign" orchestrated by Downing Street:
Looks like #SundayPapers @10DowningStreet has engaged in nasty smear tactics against outstanding Parliamentarian #DominicGrieve & MPs putting country before party @ChrisLeslieMP @NickBoles to scare #Conservative collegues from voting against the PMs #Brexit “deal” #FakeNews
— Anna Soubry (@Anna_Soubry) January 13, 2019
The leader of the Lib Dems, Vince Cable, told the BBC that the rebellion was "not a conspiracy" but that it was clearly happening".
He said opinion in Parliament was crystallising. "There is no support for the government's deal and absolutely no support for no deal and then that leaves us with a more limited range of options."
He added: "It would be absolutely outrageous and unforgivable if the chaotic circumstances of no deal were allowed to happen."
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also told the BBC that his party would table a motion of no confidence in the government at a "time of our choosing" but declined to say when that may be, saying only that it would be "soon".
Corbyn, who has come under fire from members of his own party for not backing a second referendum, said he “would rather get a negotiated deal now” than a second EU referendum.
The new rebellion comes as May launches another plea to get MPs behind her deal next week.
Writing in the Sunday Express, the Prime Minister said: "On Tuesday, your MP will be asked to vote on this deal and with it, your future. It is the biggest and most important decision that any MP of our generation will be asked to make. So they must decide what really matters.
"It is not a debating contest with prizes handed out for ideological purity of position. In Jeremy Corbyn I face a Labour leader who is more concerned with playing politics than acting in the best interests of our country.
"Rather than trying to deliver what people voted for and bring the country together, he wants to try and force a general election – recklessly sowing the seeds of division in a bid to boost his own career.
"But if parliament does not come together and back this deal in our national interest we risk leaving with no deal, with all the uncertainty for jobs and security that will bring. Or, with MPs unwilling to face the uncertainty of no deal and with no other offer on the table, we will risk not leaving the European Union at all."