Theresa May has been told “nothing has changed” despite the prime minister beginning a fresh New Year bid to deliver her Brexit deal.
With the House of Commons due to vote on her EU exit agreement next week, Mrs May warned MPs the country would be in “unchartered territory” if they voted down her deal.
The parliamentary showdown is expected on 14 or 15 January, with the prime minister preparing to set out “assurances and measures” over the next few days as she tries to convince sceptical MPs.
These include specific measures relating to Northern Ireland, plans for a greater role for parliament in Brexit decision-making, and further assurances from the EU amid concerns about the so-called backstop arrangement for the Irish border.
However, having pulled a pre-Christmas vote on her deal due to the prospect of a significant defeat, Mrs May insisted the vote next week will now “definitely” go ahead.
“If the deal is not voted on at this vote that is coming up, then actually we are going to be in uncharted territory,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“I don’t think anybody can say exactly what will happen in terms of the reaction we will see in Parliament.”
Mrs May sidestepped questions about whether she could keep putting her deal back to MPs if it is rejected a first time round.
She also attacked those campaigning for a second EU referendum for “disrespecting” Leave voters, while she accused Labour – who will vote against her deal – of “playing politics” in order to create the “greatest chaos”.
In a message also issued to her own party’s Brexiteer MPs, Mrs May said: “We have got people who are promoting a second referendum in order to stop Brexit, and we have got people who want to see their perfect Brexit.
“I would say don’t let the search for the perfect become the enemy of the good because the danger there is that we end up with no Brexit at all.”
The prime minister repeated her mantra that “no deal was better than a bad deal”, but stressed her agreement meant “what we have on the table is a good deal”.
“I am continuing to listen to colleagues and will continue to talk to colleagues about this and we are continuing to talk with the EU about the further assurances that can give MPs the confidence of knowing that they can support this deal,” she said.
Having survived a confidence vote among her MPs, Mrs May would not answer whether she would remain as Tory leader for months or years.
But, she said: “I was clear before Christmas with my colleagues on two things: one, I’m not going to call a snap election and secondly that I’m not going to be leading the party into the 2022 general election.”
ANALYSIS: No change as PM offers same arguments
Commenting on Mrs May’s TV interview, Sky News’ political editor Faisal Islam said: “There’s basically been no change over Christmas other than the hope her MPs will have seen her light in the Christmas skies and have been persuaded by local voters to come into line.
“She repeated the same essential arguments that were not persuasive to parliament last month.
“It’s difficult to find many MPs who say that Christmas has changed much.
“Also, the scale and depth of any reassurances that may come from Brussels look likely to fall short of anything requiring a further summit or that would subsequently change the attorney general’s legal advice on the backstop.”
Despite the prime minister’s fresh plea to MPs, there were signs she is still on course for a damaging reverse.
Leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was at the forefront of efforts to oust Mrs May last month, told the prime minister that MPs critical of her deal “have not gone soft over Christmas”.
He still expects more than 100 Tory MPs to vote against Mrs May’s agreement, with the DUP also opposed.
Fellow Brexiteer Peter Bone, commenting on whether MPs may have changed their minds over their Christmas break, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge: “If there’s been any change, it’s hardened the attitude of MPs towards what’s called a ‘no-deal’.
“Because, the more and more information about the ‘no-deal’, it’s clear that it’s absolutely OK to do it.”
Senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper also claimed it “seems like nothing has changed since before Christmas”, while the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said there was “nothing new” from the prime minister following her TV interview.
Meanwhile, Labour’s own divisions over Brexit risked deepening after shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry suggested the People’s Vote campaign for a second EU referendum is a means by which to “slap the Labour Party around”.
“I’ve said this to them myself, that it is a perfectly legitimate campaign for them to be involved in,” she told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“What I would like them to particularly be focussing on is taking the arguments as to why we should remain in the EU to those people who voted to Leave and to try and change some hearts and minds, rather than using it, as some people I think do, as an opportunity to attack the Labour Party and the leadership of the Labour Party.”
Many prominent Labour MPs, including Streatham MP Chuka Umunna, are supporters of the People’s Vote campaign.
Mr Umunna admitted to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge he would not be “disingenuous and pretend” there is yet a majority of MPs in support of a second EU referendum.
But, he added “what happens now and how people feel now will be very different” once the Commons vote on Mrs May’s deal has been held.