Theresa May faces a potential new front in the war between the pro and anti-EU wings of the Conservative Party after two days of votes that also exposed Labour’s fault lines over Brexit.
The Government is expected to table a compromise amendment on Thursday to her flagship EU Withdrawal Bill, setting out in more detail the terms of the “meaningful vote” promised to MPs on the final Brexit deal.
Pro-EU Tories have warned that they remain ready to rebel if their demands are not satisfied by the compromise amendment, before leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed their idea made a “no-deal Brexit” more likely.
It came after Jeremy Corbyn suffered a major rebellion, with six members of his shadow team among more than a third of Labour MPs who voted against the whip over the Brexit Bill.
A total of 89 of the party’s 257 MPs ignored front bench orders to abstain from voting either for or against an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal Bill) that sought to prioritise European Economic Area (EEA) membership in EU negotiations.
But the rebels were split, with 74 voting in favour of the Lords amendment, which called for the Government to pursue the so-called “Norway Model” membership, and 15 against it.
Mr Rees-Mogg told Newsnight that the concessions sought by Tories including Dominic Grieve would “gum up” negotiations with the EU.
He added: “Can you imagine: the Government goes off to Brussels and says ‘we can only discuss these three things because these are the only ones that have been covered by a House of Commons resolution’.
“The EU says no, it goes back to the Commons, a week passes, another resolution has passed, it means nothing has happened.”
He added that he would not support – or table – a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister and he “expected” her to get a good deal out of the EU.
After days of division and bitter rows between Brexiteers and Remainers in the Tory ranks, Mrs May was able to see off another amendment that would have tied Britain to the customs union post-Brexit by 325 votes to 298, majority 27.
It was Labour divisions that were exposed on Wednesday by votes on the EEA plan.
Laura Smith stepped down as a junior shadow cabinet office minister to vote with the Government, saying “remaining in the EEA is not the right way forward for our country”.
But five parliamentary private secretaries (PPS) voted in favour of the EEA amendment; Ged Killen, Ellie Reeves, Tonia Antoniazzi, Anna McMorrin and Rosie Duffield, with all but Ms Duffield announcing their resignation before the vote.
Mr Corbyn said: “I understand the difficulties MPs representing constituencies which voted strongly for Leave or Remain have on the EEA amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill.
“The Labour Party respects the outcome of the EU referendum and does not support the EEA or Norway model as it is not the right for option for Britain.”
An amendment introduced by Labour, which called for access to the single market but stopped short of EEA membership, was defeated by 82 votes, with no party rebels.
The Conservatives said the resignations showed that Mr Corbyn “can’t lead his own party let alone our country through complex Brexit negotiations”, while Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable accused him of being “completely defunct as an Opposition Leader”.