LONDON • Britain's Brexit Minister insisted that a crucial vote on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal would go ahead after a newspaper report yesterday said she planned to delay it and make a last-minute dash to Brussels to seek a better offer.
Mrs May's deal looks set to be rejected by Parliament tomorrow, a decision that would throw plans for Britain's exit from the European Union into turmoil and leave her own political future hanging in the balance.
Britain's Sunday Times reported that Mrs May was expected to announce today that she was delaying the vote to head to Brussels to make a final appeal to the EU to improve Britain's exit deal.
"The vote is on Tuesday, that is what we are focused on," Brexit Minister Stephen Barclay told BBC TV yesterday. "The risk for those who say, simply go back and ask again, the risk is that isn't necessarily a one-way street, the French, the Spanish and others will turn round, if we seek to reopen the negotiation, and ask for more."
Mr Barclay added that Britain would enter uncharted waters if it loses the vote, but Mrs May could stay on as prime minister.
European Union leaders are due to meet in Brussels on Thursday, and there has been speculation that Mrs May might use that as a chance to press for changes to a deal that has angered both sides in the debate.
The strongest opposition to Mrs May's deal centres around the so-called Irish "backstop", an insurance policy that is designed to prevent a hard border between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland.
Brexit supporters and Mrs May's nominal allies in Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) say it could result in Britain being forced to accept EU regulations indefinitely, or in Northern Ireland being treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.
EU supporters say Britain would become little more than a rule-taker, offering the worst of all worlds.
Several lawmakers, including the DUP's leader in the British Parliament, Mr Nigel Dodds, and former Brexit minister Dominic Raab, yesterday called for Mrs May to go back to Brussels and seek to renegotiate the deal.
According to the Telegraph, government whips had given Conservative lawmakers until about midday yesterday to say how they will vote on Mrs May's deal as the numbers continued to stack up against the Prime Minister.
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, a leading Brexit campaigner who is seen as a possible successor to Mrs May, said lawmakers on all sides were united against the backstop, and losing the vote in Parliament would give Mrs May a mandate to ask the EU to remove it from the deal.
"Nothing is over until it is over," he told BBC TV. "If the Prime Minister is able to go back to Brussels this week and say, I am afraid that the Irish backstop solution that you have come up with is very unpopular... they will listen."
While EU diplomats have said they could consider helping Mrs May with "cosmetic" changes to the non-binding political agreement that accompanies the deal, the legally binding text of the exit deal itself would be off-limits to renegotiation.
Mrs May has insisted repeatedly that her deal, which envisages continued close ties with the EU, is the only one on the table and that the alternatives are a painful "no-deal" exit from the EU or possibly no Brexit at all.
The clock is ticking, with Britain due to leave the EU on March 29 next year.
The pressure on Mrs May mounted at the weekend after Conservative lawmaker Will Quince quit his government role on Saturday in opposition to her deal.
The Sunday Times said further resignations were expected.
One minister told the newspaper that he would quit if the vote went ahead, and the paper added that at least two Brexit-backing ministers and two members of the whips' office were also on the verge of resigning.