Theresa May will intensify efforts to win over her Brexit critics and seek fresh guarantees from Brussels ahead of next week’s crunch vote on her deal.
The British Prime Minister acknowledged she was “still working on” getting further assurances from the European Union to address concerns about the backstop measure aimed at preventing a hard border with Ireland.
But as MPs returned to Westminster after the Christmas break she was warned that the attitudes of Tory Brexiteers had hardened, with Boris Johnson stating that a no-deal Brexit was closest to what people voted for in the referendum.
He used his Daily Telegraph column to dismiss “downright apocalyptic” messages about a Brexit on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, arguing that people could “sort fact for nonsense”.
Mr Johnson said: “They didn’t vote for anything like Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. They voted to come out.
“It is no deal or WTO terms that actually corresponds to their idea of coming out, and they view that option with a confidence that is now directly proportional to the growing strength of the Government’s warnings against it.”
Their report said: “It would be rash to predict that ‘everything will be all right on the night’.
“Unforeseen problems may arise, and some businesses may fail to prepare for foreseable problems.
“But experience suggests that if one prepares for them, what could have been major problems turn out to be minor.”
It was “likely to turn out nearer the Millennium Bug than Armageddon”, they said.
In preparation for a no-deal Brexit, a major exercise is being carried out in Kent involving more than 100 lorries.
The trial will test out Manston airfield near Ramsgate as a mass HGV holding bay to ease congestion on roads to Channel ports
But 209 MPs from across the Commons have now signed a letter to the Prime Minister urging her to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
The letter was organised by Tory former Cabinet minister Dame Caroline Spelman and Labour’s Jack Dromey.
Dame Caroline told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “Crashing out of the EU without a deal will cause job losses and bring to an end the renaissance of manufacturing that we’ve seen in regions like mine in the West Midlands, and both Jack Dromey and I know the human interest and impact of this.”
All signatories to the letter have been invited to meet the Prime Minister in Downing Street on Tuesday.
The meeting is one of a series being organised by Mrs May, who is also hosting drinks receptions for Tory MPs on Monday and Wednesday as part of an charm offensive to win support for the Brexit deal.
Mrs May has warned the UK will be in “uncharted territory” if the deal is rejected in the vote, expected on January 15.
She told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “What we’ll be setting out over the next few days is a sort of assurances, is measures in three areas.
“The first is measures that will be specific for Northern Ireland.
“The second is a greater role for parliament as we take these negotiations into the next stage for our future relationship.
“And the third, and we’re still working on this, is further assurances from the European Union to address the issues that have been raised.”
Mrs May held talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday and the pair are expected to keep in touch this week as the clock ticks down to the Commons showdown.
The DUP’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the Withdrawal Agreement remained “toxic” as a result of the Irish backstop measure.
“The fundamental problems which make this a bad deal appear not to have changed,” he said.