LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May could face a defeat in Parliament early today over her plan to renegotiate the Brexit deal, undermining her pledge to the European Union that, with changes, she can get the deal approved.
The symbolic vote was seen by Mrs May's team as little more than a rubber stamp of her plan to secure changes to the divorce deal with the EU, giving her more time to satisfy lawmakers' concerns over one part of it - the Irish backstop.
But hardline Brexiters in her ruling Conservative Party are angry over what they see as her acceptance of ruling out a no-deal departure, something Mrs May and her team deny, saying that by law Britain will leave the EU on March 29 with or without an agreement.
A rebellion, even in a symbolic vote, would be a blow to Mrs May, who has insisted to EU leaders that if they offer her more concessions on the deal agreed in November, she can command a majority in Parliament and get the pact passed.
Trade Minister Liam Fox urged lawmakers to back the Prime Minister, warning: "Our European partners will be watching."
Mr Steve Baker, a member of the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative lawmakers, said no lawmaker in the governing party could be associated with anything which seems to take a "no-deal Brexit" off the table.
"Compromising no deal would be the daftest negotiating strategy and not in the national interest," he said on Twitter.
One Conservative MP said the ERG was still discussing which strategy to pursue in Parliament - to vote against or abstain.
Mrs May is trying to secure changes to the backstop arrangement to prevent a return of border controls between Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland to ease concerns that Britain will be kept too closely in the EU's orbit indefinitely or that the British province will be split away.
A motion to be debated states that Parliament welcomes Mrs May's update on Tuesday regarding progress in seeking changes to the deal, and reaffirms its support for a vote on Jan 29 that she should seek to renegotiate the part of the deal relating to the future of the Ireland-Northern Ireland border.
In a bid to prevent a no deal, several lawmakers will try to get Parliament to back their alternative proposals, with options including a second referendum, a delay to Brexit and even a push to reverse the decision to leave the EU.
Speaker John Bercow will decide whether to select any of the amendments for a vote. Lawmakers will vote on each of the selected amendments one by one, before voting to give final approval to the wording of the motion itself.
If lawmakers support the motion and give Mrs May more time to negotiate, nothing will immediately change. If the motion is rejected, it would undermine her efforts.
It is not clear whether any amendment will win enough support to pass. Lawmakers trying to force the government to delay Brexit say they will wait until the next round of votes Mrs May has promised on Feb 27 to make their move.
On Wednesday, European Council president Donald Tusk said the bloc was waiting for Britain to present solid proposals to break the impasse.