Theresa May warns Tory MPs: do not obstruct the will of the British people

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Would-be rebel Tory MPs have been warned by Theresa May they will be going against the democratic will of the British people if they side with the opposition to put constraints on the Government in the Brexit Bill.

The Prime Minister said the House of Commons has already clearly voted in support of the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which will allow her to trigger Article 50 to begin the formal exit process.

The Bill returned to the Commons on Monday for a further three days of debate during committee stage, giving MPs the chance to amend the legislation.

As MPs rejected a Labour bid for updates on the Brexit talks to be provided at least every two months, Tory former minister Anna Soubry said she may have "no alternative" but to vote against the Government unless MPs are guaranteed a vote on the Brexit deal before it is agreed with the EU.

Her intervention came after Mrs May warned pro-Remain Tories against backing amendments seeking to ensure Parliament gets a say on the "endgame" if Brexit negotiations collapse without a deal.

The PM has made clear she will walk away from talks if no deal can be reached, but potential rebels on her backbenches are worried about quitting the EU without an agreement, with potentially serious consequences for the economy.

In a Commons statement on last week's informal EU summit in Malta, Mrs May warned them: "Our European partners now want to get on with the negotiations, so do I, and so does this House, which last week voted by a majority of 384 in support of the Government triggering Article 50.

"There are of course further stages for the Bill in committee and in the Lords and it is right that this process should be completed properly.

"But the message is clear to all - this House has spoken and now is not the time to obstruct the democratically expressed wishes of the British people.

"It is time to get on with leaving the European Union and building an independent, self-governing, global Britain."

Mrs May sought to ease concerns over the rights of EU nationals already in the UK, which reports suggested as another potential flashpoint for rebellion.

The PM said the "general view" from the summit in Valletta was that the UK and EU need to reach an agreement that applies equally to citizens of both parties.

This means that Britain taking a unilateral decision to guarantee EU nationals' status is "not the right way forward", Mrs May said.

However, Tory MP Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, used the Commons debate to say there was an "overwhelming ethical case" to assure EU citizens of their rights.

Pro-Remainers have dismissed a claim by leading Brexit campaigner Steve Baker that as many as 27 rebels could vote with the opposition.

But with a Government majority of just 16 in the Commons, the margin may be tight if it comes to a vote.