PM battles with Tory Brexiteers over Irish backstop amendment as her deal hangs by a thread ahead of Commons Brexit vote

THERESA May’s Brexit deal hangs on a knife edge ahead of tomorrow’s Commons showdown after she fought a pitched battle with Tory hardliners tonight.

During an electric confrontation after summoning all Tory MPs, the PM pleaded for them all to support a senior backbencher’s unity plan.

PM Theresa May had an electric confrontation with Tory Brexiteers after summoning all of her MPs and urging them to back the Brady amendment
EPA

PM Theresa May had an electric confrontation with Tory Brexiteers after summoning all of her MPs and urging them to back the Brady amendment[/caption]

Sir Graham Brady's amendment calls for the current Irish backstop to be dropped to keep the PM's deal alive as Parliament tries to seize control of Brexit
PA:Press Association

Sir Graham Brady’s amendment calls for the current Irish backstop to be dropped to keep the PM’s deal alive as Parliament tries to seize control of Brexit[/caption]

Mrs May threw the Government’s weight behind Sir Graham Brady’s call for the current Irish backstop to be removed to keep her deal alive as Parliament tries to seize control of Brexit.

Giving it a majority in tomorrow’s vote would “give a very clear message around what Parliament wants” and deliver her a mandate to take it back to Brussels, Mrs May insisted.

But minutes earlier, arch-Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg declared his hardline European Research Group of Tory MPs would refuse to the unity plan.

Instead, he demanded the PM spell out exactly what changes she would press the EU for.

But that sparked a major split inside the ERG itself and a vicious bout of insults, as other members defied Mr Rees-Mogg to declare they would vote for the Brady plan.

Boris Johnson also tried to pin down Mrs May during the tense meeting, several times yelling at her: “But what do YOU want to do Prime Minister?”

The PM would only reply that she’ll continue to “battle away”.

Loyalist Tory MP Simon Hart said: “Boris raised a question around, how is this going to manifest itself in meaningful change.

“She said, ‘we won’t know unless you support us Boris – get behind us and you’ll find out’.

“It was the sparkiest that she was, and it got a cheer.”

COMMONS VOTE ‘CLOSE’

One Tory whip tonight put the number of refusenik Tory Brexiteer MPs as low “about 20 diehards”, meaning tomorrow’s Commons vote will be very close – and Mrs May will need some pro-Brexit Labour MPs’ help.

The DUP also kept No10 sweating overnight.

Its 10 MPs, who are propping up Mrs May’s minority government, will meet on Tuesday at 9.30am to decide whether to vote for the Brady amendment, and what their terms will be for doing it.

Asked whether Mrs May has the votes to win tomorrow, one senior Cabinet minister told The Sun: “I think so”.

Wavering Tory MPs said what the PM commits to in her final speech just before the 7pm vote will be crucial.

Two other senior Tory Brexiteers, John Baron and Andrew Murrison, also withdrew their amendments to toughen up the backstop tonight, to give Sir Graham Brady’s a better chance of getting picked by the Speaker.

No10 heaped pressure on John Bercow to choose the Brady amendment.

THE ERG FACTOR

ERG chief Jacob Rees-Mogg appeared to soften his opposition to the Brady amendment – just minutes after ruling out ever backing it.

He had declared the ERG group would only sign up to an amendment tabled by the Government itself that promised to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement to remove the backstop or replace it with an alternative technological solution.

But after the PM addressed Tory MPs he said simply a government statement explaining its new position on the backstop could be enough to win over his and the ERG’s support.

Mr Rees-Mogg told The Sun: “It really depends on the Government – if there is a new government policy and this is clarified and it’s a government motion that’s one thing.

“But if it’s simply a standalone backbench motion that means nothing then that’s another question.

“It will depend on the tone of the opening statements.”

The Brexiteer added: “There are people with differing views on what it means. There is no great appetite for it but the appetite would change if it becomes new government policy.”

As insults flew between Tory MPs today, one likened Mr Rees-Mogg’s hardliners to Millwall-style football thugs.

The PM’s former policy chief George Freeman branded Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group members as “hardline Brexit ultras”.

He tweeted: “Everyone will have to compromise a bit. But hardline Brexit “ultras” need to compromise, too, to secure Brexit”.

Issuing another appeal tonight, Tory party chairman Brandon Lewis said: “I would hope the ERG, when they look at this and actually look through the detail of what this gives the PM tomorrow, in terms of a meaningful vote that will come back later, (see) it is about giving a message to Europe about what can go through Parliament in terms of dealing with the backstop issue and why that matters.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg said that the European Research Group of MPs would oppose the Brady amendment
Jacob Rees-Mogg said that the European Research Group of MPs would oppose the Brady amendment
Reuters
During the tense meeting, several times Boris Johnson yelled at Mrs May: 'But what do YOU want to do Prime Minister?'
During the tense meeting, several times Boris Johnson yelled at Mrs May: ‘But what do YOU want to do Prime Minister?’
London News Pictures

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