Tory MPs have been warned against rebelling in a key Commons vote on the Prime Minister’s EU withdrawal stance as it could send the “wrong signal” to Brussels.
Eurosceptic Conservatives are threatening to oppose the Government’s motion when the Commons votes again on Brexit options on Thursday evening.
Tory critics insist the motion effectively means Theresa May is abandoning a no-deal exit option.
But International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told potential rebels Parliament was not an “internal debating society” and European negotiators would be watching to see if MPs were showing “consistency”.
He told ITV News: "I was talking to one of senior French counterparts over the weekend and it's very clear that they listen to what is said in Parliament and they take that as a sign of how reliable the United Kingdom would be in upholding any agreements.
"So I think we need to send a consistent signal."
Dr Fox added: "We seem to have an irrational pessimism from those who wanted to stay in the EU who say that everything about Brexit is bad and would probably blame the weather on Brexit if they could.
"And then you have an irrational optimism from people on the other side who say that no-deal wouldn't cause any disruption to our economy. It would.
"So the best way is to leave the European Union and to leave with a deal."
“And therefore Parliament has got a duty to ensure that we send the correct signals that represent those views of the British people and represent them to those we are negotiating with.”
But former Brexit minister Steve Baker said Conservatives should not be “associated with anything” that “seems to take no deal off the table”.
The latest showdown comes as European Council president Donald Tusk expressed frustration at a lack of progress in London.
He tweeted: “No news is not always good news. EU27 still waiting for concrete, realistic proposals from London on how to break #Brexit impasse.”
Dutch PM Mark Rutte told the Financial Times the Netherlands is already benefiting from businesses relocating from a “diminished” Britain.
In a bid to keep lines open with EU leaders, Mrs May spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Wednesday evening.
But she faces an immediate threat in the Commons as Tory Brexiteers have expressed concern over part of the Government motion.
Many back the fact it reiterates support for the direction agreed on January 29, when MPs supported an amendment authorising Mrs May to return to Brussels to renegotiate the controversial Irish backstop.
But members of the backbench European Research Group (ERG) say it effectively endorses another amendment approved by MPs that day, which rules out no deal but is not binding on the Government.
Though Mrs May is expected to be able to weather a defeat on the Government motion, such an outcome would be embarrassing as she seeks to get the EU to agree to changes regarding withdrawal proposals.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn is facing up to 10 resignations from Labour’s top team if he fails to push the case for a new Brexit referendum, according to The Guardian.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has insisted that the option of a new Brexit poll remains on the table as he admitted Labour’s preferred scenario of a snap general election is looking unlikely.
Labour has tabled an amendment to the Government motion requiring Mrs May to either put her deal to a Commons vote by February 27 or allow Parliament to take control of the process.
The Labour leadership is also set to back a proposal from backbencher Yvette Cooper, expected to be debated on February 27, that would require a vote by the middle of March on delaying Brexit.