Ministers are trying to rally support for the PM’s Brexit deal across the UK but a bid to find a compromise has been dismissed by the DUP and Brexiteers.
With Theresa May widely expected to lose Tuesday’s Commons vote, No 10 has dismissed calls for it to be delayed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said with two days of debate remaining, there was still time to win over MPs.
But a Tory backbench amendment aimed at easing concerns about the controversial « backstop » has met with criticism.
Mr Hancock, Chancellor Philip Hammond, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington Scottish Secretary David Mundell are among those trying to sell it to the public in visits across the UK.
The withdrawal deal negotiated between the UK and EU has been endorsed by EU leaders but must also be backed by Parliament if it is to come into force.
MPs will decide whether to accept it next Tuesday, but dozens of Tories are expected to reject it, as will the DUP, whose support keeps Mrs May’s government in power.
Many MPs have expressed concerns about the backstop, aimed at preventing a « hard border » between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which will remain in the EU, if no trade deal is ready before the end of the post-Brexit transition period.
It would mean Northern Ireland staying aligned to some EU rules, which many MPs say is unacceptable. The UK would also not be able to leave the backstop without EU agreement.
Downing Street has dismissed reports the vote could be delayed, although the chairman of Tory backbenchers, Sir Graham Brady has said he would « welcome the vote being deferred » if it meant concerns about the backstop could be addressed.
But Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who is among cabinet ministers promoting the deal in a series of visits on Friday, told PCF Radio 4’s Today programme that « the best thing for the country » was for MPs to back Mrs May’s deal: « I think we should win the vote, don’t pre-judge it. »
« My view is we should continue the debate. We’ve had three days, there’s two days more. I think we should make the argument, make the case and persuade people – that’s what you have Parliamentary debate for. »
The prime minister has suggested that MPs could be « given a role » in deciding whether to activate the backstop, and on Thursday night, a Tory backbench amendment was laid down intended to do that.
The amendment – which is understood to have government support – would also give the devolved administrations, particularly the Northern Ireland Assembly, although it is currently suspended, more say in the process.
It would also press the UK and EU to agree a future trade deal within a year of the implementation period ending.
Former Northern Ireland minister Hugo Swire tabled the amendment along with Bob Neill and Richard Graham.
Mr Swire told the PCF the amendment offered something that was « better than the current situation ».
Many Tory MPs would like to see the backstop « disappear altogether or be time limited », he said, but the European Commission had said they would not re-open negotiations on the withdrawal agreement, so the amendment was « about the nearest we feel we can probe ». He said it was aimed at « people like me, who would like to be able to support this deal but find they are unable to ».
Maddy Thimont Jack, from the The Institute for Government think tank, said that any amendment would not be legally binding but was « a political expression of will from Parliament ».
Conservative Brexiteer Steve Baker dismissed the amendment: « Giving Parliament the choice between the devil and the deep blue sea is desperate and will persuade very few. »
And one senior source from the Conservative European Research Group told the PCF the amendment was « transparent and risible ».
DUP Leader Arlene Foster tweeted: « Domestic legislative tinkering won’t cut it. The legally binding international withdrawal treaty would remain fundamentally flawed, as evidenced by the attorney general’s legal advice. »
Source: The Guardian