Theresa May will go before MPs today to face down calls for a delay to Brexit, amid growing unease at the impact on the economy from continued uncertainty.
The Prime Minister will urge MPs to ‘hold our nerve’ before the Commons is presented with another “neutral motion” on Brexit later this week, rather than a substantive vote to approve the Brexit deal.
It comes as the latest set of economic figures for the UK showed the slowest growth since 2009, when the country was in recession.
The Office for National Statistics said gross domestic product growth fell to 0.2 per cent between October and December 2018, driven by a 1.1 per cent drop in manufacturing output.
In her statement to parliament, Mrs May is expected to say: “The talks are at a crucial stage. We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this House has required and deliver Brexit on time.”
Cabinet will meet this morning, with Downing Street hoping it has seen off any immediate risk of resignations over the looming prospect of a no-deal Brexit by promising a further round of Brexit votes at the end of February, if Mrs May still hasn’t achieved the renegotiated deal she is calling for from Brussels.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said she would address MPs a day earlier than expected to give MPs more time to “digest the content” ahead of a series of votes scheduled for Thursday, allowing parliamentarians another chance to alter the course of Brexit or seek a delay.
Following an exchange of letters between Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn, opening the door to further talks on a possible Brexit compromise, Downing Street said the government was not considering full membership of the EU customs union as demanded by the Labour leader.
The demand is likely to be pushed to a vote on Thursday. Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer denied reports that Mr Corbyn’s office removed a reference in the letter to a second EU referendum without his knowledge.
“The letter was an agreed letter that was sent out,” Sir Keir said.
“The critical question is: is she, in her response, indicating a willingness to drop her red lines or not? And that’s what needs to be tested sooner rather than later.”
Mrs May also came under fresh pressure from her own side not to compromise, with International Trade Secretary Liam Fox saying Labour’s proposals were “not workable”, while Boris Johnson claimed they would produce a “toxic” Brexit.
Mr Johnson suggested he could back the Brexit deal if it included a time limit and unilateral exit mechanism from the Irish border backstop, but the former foreign secretary warned putting the changes in a codicil to the withdrawal agreement would not be good enough.
Meanwhile, a group of anti-Brexit Conservative MPs and peers have written to the Prime Minister asking for a meeting to discuss the UK’s exit being delayed.
In their letter to Mrs May, the group describing themselves as “patriotic, pragmatic Conservatives” said it the UK is “not ready to leave” on the scheduled date of 29 March.
The Right to Vote group includes former attorney general Dominic Grieve and ex-ministers Phillip Lee, Sam Gyimah and Guto Bebb who quit the government to fight for a second referendum.