Liam Fox and Penny Mordaunt are expected to use a crunch meeting of the Cabinet to warn the PM that it could be impossible to pass her deal without the support of some Labour MPs.
They will argue that a free vote could be the only way to free up MPs to abandon party lines.
Meanwhile, a separate group of ministers is set to urge Mrs May to effectively throw the decision over to parliament by staging a series of ‘indicative votes’ on the full range of options in the New Year – including ‘no deal’, a second referendum and a Norway-style soft Brexit.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox (pictured left) in understood to have joined International Development Secretary Penny Mourdant (right) in advocating for the Prime Minister to call a free vote on her Brexit deal, to encourage support from Labour MPs
Miss Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary, has been pushing the idea for weeks, but has so far failed to persuade the PM. But, with 100 Tory MPs publicly opposed to Mrs May’s deal, Dr Fox is also now expected to join the call.
Yesterday he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the Cabinet had not yet considered the idea in detail, but indicated he was open to it.
Asked directly if he would support a free vote, the International Trade Secretary said: ‘I wouldn’t have a huge problem with parliament as a whole having a say on what the options were, because it wasn’t the Government that was given an instruction by the referendum – it was parliament.’
A Cabinet source said: ‘People are coming round to the idea of a free vote. The truth is it would not make much difference on our side – as things stand we are going to lose 80 or so.
Mr Fox told Andrew Marr he wouldn’t have a ‘huge problem’ with a free vote, adding: ‘It wasn’t the Government that was given an instruction by the referendum – it was parliament’
‘But it would force Labour MPs to face the fact it’s this deal or no deal. The only way we are going to get the numbers is if a significant number of Labour MPs peel off and a free vote may be the only way to do that.’
Former Labour minister Ian Austin yesterday said the party’s MPs should back Mrs May’s proposals rather than risk a no-deal Brexit.
Writing in The Sun on Sunday, he said: ‘Theresa May’s deal isn’t perfect, but it is still our best option in front of us to protect jobs, keep employment and environmental standards, deliver a fair immigration system and safeguard border arrangements in Ireland.’
As the possibility that Theresa May will bring her deal back to the Commons looms, the Cabinet is hopelessly divided on the best path forwards
Meanwhile, Education Secretary Damian Hinds yesterday backed the idea of holding ‘indicative votes’ in Parliament to test the support for both Mrs May’s deal and other options.
Supporters of that plan believe it would show there is no majority for either no deal or a second referendum, forcing MPs to focus on the real options in front of them.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds has backed the idea of holding ‘indicative votes’ to test support for Mrs May’s deal and other options
Other Ministers backing the idea include Chancellor Philip Hammond, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, Justice Secretary David Gauke and Business Secretary Greg Clark.
Mr Hinds told Sky News: ‘What you need is a balanced kind of approach. The essential objective is that we’re trying to make sure we honour the result of the referendum but do so in a way which is economically beneficial.’
But other senior ministers are urging Mrs May to press ahead with her renegotiations in Brussels on the Irish backstop.
One Cabinet minister said it was ‘madness’ to rely on Labour support – and said the only hope was to secure concessions that would persuade the DUP and most Tory Eurosceptics to come back onside.
Mrs May was rebuffed last week in her search for concessions. But she will call on EU ambassadors this week to drive home the need for changes if the deal is to be acceptable to parliament.
Jonathan Jones, the Government’s most senior legal officer, will also travel to Brussels for talks with the European Commission’s legal team on possible solutions.
Holiday firms may be given Brexit bailout
Government officials have discussed covering holiday firms’ losses if Britons are advised not to travel to the EU after a no-deal Brexit, it was claimed yesterday.
Whitehall staff have raised the idea with at least one cabinet minister, and examined the impact any guidance could have on tour operators, The Sunday Times reported.
It is the latest in a string of warnings about the potential effects leaving the EU will have on consumers and businesses.
Aviation officials have warned that a new agreement will be needed to ensure planes can continue to fly to continental destinations. And there are fears that delays in processing lorries at Dover and Calais could lead to shortages of some foods.
In addition, UK motorists could have to pay £5.50 for a permit to drive on the continent if there is no deal.
British travellers will have to pay more than £6 every three years to travel to the EU after Brexit – whether or not there is a deal. The EU Commission confirmed last week that holidaymakers will need to apply for new documents after 2021.
Visitors will also need a passport valid for at least six months, and dogs and cats will require rabies tests to travel, because the current pet passport system will expire.