What worries government ministers, as I say in The Sun this morning, is not the actual vote on the Article 50 bill—voting against the bill as whole would be akin to rejecting the referendum result—but attempts to tie Theresa May’s hands ahead of the negotiation through amendments to the bill.
One senior Cabinet Minister tells me that peers and MPs ‘won’t be able to resist’ trying to amend the bill. Though, it is worth noting that because of public concern about free movement there probably isn’t a Commons majority for staying in the single market, post referendum.
Downing Street is adamant that they don’t want an early election, and that if they lose their appeal to the supreme court they can get this bill through clean. But, as this senior Cabinet Minister says of Theresa May, ‘She’s absolutely honest when she says she doesn’t want an early election. But this is the thing that highlights how difficult or nigh on impossible it is to do this with such a small majority.’ If the government loses the programme motion on this bill, meaning that debate on it cannot be curtailed, or it is amended, an early election will start to look a lot more attractive to Number 10.