Conservative backbench rebels who defeated the government last week are urging Theresa May to reach out to Labour MPs and form a cross-party alliance for a soft Brexit.
As May’s Brexit team prepares to debate Britain’s future relationship with the EU on Monday before a full meeting of her divided cabinet on Tuesday, the dissident MPs believe last week’s vote should embolden her to face down hardline Brexiters.
Eleven Tories defied the leadership last Wednesday to support an amendment aimed at ensuring that parliament gets a vote on the final Brexit deal before Britain leaves the EU.
The defeat, May’s first over Brexit, concerned process rather than substance, but the rebels believe it should embolden the chancellor, Philip Hammond, and his cabinet allies – the home secretary, Amber Rudd, and the business secretary, Greg Clark – by underlining the fact that no parliamentary majority exists for a hard Brexit.
At least two of the amendment’s Tory backers, dubbed mutineers by the Daily Telegraph, have talked to senior figures at No 10, including May’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, about the idea of drawing on supportive Labour MPs to form a soft Brexit caucus in the House of Commons.
They believe such an approach would allow the prime minister to argue for a close future relationship with the EU, potentially including continued membership of the customs union, and have advised her to pick off Labour rebels before the frontbench hardens its own policy.