Theresa May’s allies are dangling the prospect of a second referendum in a final attempt to get her Brexit deal through Parliament.
Downing Street hopes it can entice Remain-supporting MPs to back her Withdrawal Agreement Bill initially – even if they hate it.
In return, they will promise the chance to amend it later on – even adding a fresh public vote or customs union to the PM’s deal.
One cabinet source told the Mirror that the Prime Minister was running out of options: “That’s the only way left to thread the needle”.
The Government is now so desperate to get the Prime Minister’s bill through that ministers are openly attempting to lure MPs.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted the strategy could give Parliament a chance to “have its say” on a People’s Vote or customs union.
“If you want as an MP to leave the EU, and deliver on the result of the referendum, no matter what the details you want to see in terms of the future relationship, you need to vote for this legislation – and then have the debate in the committee stages later on exactly what the details are,” he said.
“And no doubt there will be votes on some of the really big issues like whether to have a people’s vote and whether to have a customs union. Both of which I am against, but Parliament will have its chance to have its say.
“But if people don’t vote for the second reading of this Bill there will be no vehicle to get us out of the EU in Parliament.”
One Downing Street insider confirmed the plan to get MPs to support the Government at second reading – the bill’s initial stage – knowing they could attach a second referendum at committee stage.
“It’s one of the options. It’s viable… Every man and his dog is going to be hitching his wagon to this.”
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A second Cabinet minister added: “After the second reading you could have the debate on the customs union, a confirmatory referendum and so on. There’s no reason for anyone who supports Brexit, who wants to respect the referendum result, not to vote for it at second reading.”
The PM’s spokesman pointed out that MPs had already voted against a second referendum on several occasions.
But he added: “It is a simple matter of fact that amendments can only be debated after a bill has achieved second reading.”
Mrs May will tomorrow discuss her proposed “new, bold offer” on Brexit with Cabinet ministers, though few were convinced before the meeting they were going to see any substantial changes.
The package will include measures on workers rights and alternative plans for the Northern Irish border which could win over some wavering MPs, but the controversial backstop remains in place.
But the top ranks of the Tory party remain bitterly divided on the prospect of a No Deal Brexit .
Chancellor Philip Hammond will slap down hard Brexiteers – including Boris Johnson – in a speech to a business group tomorrow.
He will tell the CBI: “To advocate for No Deal is to hijack the result of the referendum, and in doing so, knowingly to inflict damage on our economy and our living standards. Because all the preparation in the world will not avoid the consequences of No Deal.
“So I will continue to fight, in the face of this polarisation, for a negotiated Brexit… we have an absolute obligation to protect Britain’s jobs, businesses and future prosperity.”
And in a barb aimed at Mr Johnson, he warned: “There is a real risk of a new Prime Minister abandoning the search for a deal, and shifting towards seeking a damaging No Deal exit as a matter of policy.”
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