Theresa May also likely to agree to demand from Tory backbenchers for quarterly updates on progress of negotiations with EU
Theresa May is planning to publish the government’s Brexit white paper on Thursday but could first make one further concession by agreeing to report back to parliament on a regular basis, sources have told the Guardian.
They have suggested that the prime minister is minded to accept quarterly reporting of progress on Brexit negotiations – which is being demanded by Conservative backbenchers, Labour and other opposition parties.
It comes as Tory rebels suggest they are unlikely to back any further amendments to the article 50 bill to be debated in the House of Commons this week, suggesting it will be sent to the Lords unchanged.
That is likely to add pressure to senior Labour figures to consider voting against the bill, with the shadow business secretary, Clive Lewis, telling his local party he will not back the legislation if it is not amended.
With Jeremy Corbyn making clear that Labour MPs should vote for article 50, the move would suggest that Lewis is likely to return to the backbenches. Dozens of Labour MPs are expected to vote against article 50, especially those who hold remain-supporting constituencies.
However, the band of Tory MPs fighting against a hard Brexit are indicating they have been largely satisfied by the prime minister’s promise of a white paper.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats now believe there is very little chance of getting enough cross-party votes for amendments. They had hoped to win support on issues such as guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals, and a more meaningful vote at the end of the two-year negotiations or protections in the Commons.
Opposition parties are concentrating on getting the government to concede points voluntarily, with Labour MPs believing the most likely proposal to be accepted is a demand for May to provide quarterly updates to parliament on the process of negotiations.
MPs are due to start debating the bill in parliament on Tuesday. The legislation would give May the power to invoke article 50 and start two years of negotiations to leave the EU. The Commons will debate the bill for two days before a vote expected on Wednesday night. More detailed scrutiny involving proposed amendments to the legislation will begin next week.
Amendments laid down include some trying to stop Brexit going ahead, demands for a referendum on the final deal and for British to remain in the single market and calling for effective consultation.
John Penrose, a Tory MP in the European Reform Group, which includes dozens of backbenchers who supported Brexit and some who backed remain, urged MPs to respect the referendum result. “More people voted for Brexit than for anything in British democratic history, ever,” he said.
“Those supporting the idea of a second referendum are not being straight with the electorate. They must know that it’s not possible to have a referendum once the deal is agreed at the end of the negotiation process – by then we will have left. They are offering a false choice.”
He also insisted there had been a “vast amount of consultation with the devolved administrations and there will continue to be. What they are really calling for – and they should be forthcoming about this – is a veto but the supreme court has ruled that out.” He said the SNP wanted preconditions that could not be guaranteed.
The government was forced to bring legislation to parliament after the supreme court ruled that May did not have the power to trigger article 50 without the permission of MPs and peers.
Ahead of the first day of debate, May said MPs faced a “simple decision: do they support the will of the British people or not?”
“My message to people is very clear,” she said during a press conference in Ireland. “The people of the United Kingdom voted on 23 June last year, they voted in a referendum that was given to them overwhelmingly by parliament. Six to one parliament voted. The people spoke in that vote, and the majority voted to leave the European Union. The job of the government is to put that into practice.”
David Davis, the Brexit secretary, echoed her words, saying MPs were considering a “very simple question: do we trust the people or not?”
One MP engaged in cross-party discussions said there was a reluctance among Tory MPs to step out of line, but there were some who were still thinking of ways to use this bill to nudge May away from the hardest Brexit path.
However, a senior Lib Dem source said there was “no chance” of getting any substantial amendments passed with cross-party support and the debate was likely to be a “damp squib”.
The legislation is likely to pass overwhelmingly with the support of almost all Conservatives and the Labour frontbench.
The biggest bloc of votes against article 50 on Wednesday is likely to come from the SNP, whose 54 MPs will oppose the legislation from the outset. Stephen Gethins, the SNP Europe spokesman, also criticised the prime minister for failing to publish the promised white paper before the first debate, leaving parliamentarians and the public heading blindly towards leaving the EU and policies based on “soundbites rather than sound arguments”.
There is a greater chance that the bill could be amended in the Lords, although peers are likely to want to avoid the appearance of trying to frustrate the bill because they are unelected parliamentarians.
The government announced on Monday that peers would debate the legislation after the parliamentary recess next month, after it clears the House of Commons on either 8-9 February.
It will then be introduced for scrutiny by the Lords, where the government does not have a majority, on Monday 20 February, before completing its passage through the House of Lords probably on 7 March. If peers make any amendments, it would have to return to the Commons, where MPs would debate whether to keep the changes or get rid of them.
That would see the bill repeatedly move between the Commons and the Lords until an agreement were reached on the final text.
May is aiming to have the bill passed through both Houses to meet her self-imposed deadline of triggering article 50 by the end of March.