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Ministers confident of overcoming Tory rebels on Brexit Bill

By Gavin Cordon

Ministers insist they are confident of winning a series of key Commons votes on the government's Brexit Bill, despite a threatened revolt by pro-EU Tories.

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill returns to the House of Commons with the government seeking to overturn a series of amendments intended to keep Britain close to the EU.

Veteran former chancellor Kenneth Clarke urged the rebels to hold their nerve, saying defeat for the government would actually strengthen Theresa May's hand against hardline Brexiteers in the Cabinet.

However, there were signs that other pro-EU Tories were backing away, amid fears that she could be fatally damaged by defeat. That could open the way for a Brexiteer to take over at the top of the party.

Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary David Davis will return to Brussels today for the latest round of talks with the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

Their meeting comes after Mr Barnier rejected key elements of the government's latest "backstop" proposal to avoid the imposition of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic if Britain and the EU are unable to agree a final deal.

However, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington denied the talks were heading for meltdown. "This is a negotiation. We have put something on the table. Michel Barnier has responded constructively. We now need to get down and talk," he told The Andrew Marr Show.

"I am expecting the talks to move forward. I am not expecting a meltdown."

Mrs May's government was thought to be vulnerable this week on two amendments - one on the EU customs union and the other on giving Parliament a decisive say over what happens if it rejects a final Brexit deal. However, Housing Minister Dominic Raab said he was reasonably confident the government had the numbers to see off the revolt.

"People thinking about voting against the government this week need to think very seriously about it," he told the BBC.

Labour shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer appeared to acknowledge that the prospects of defeat for the government were slipping away.

He said there would be further opportunities for Tory MPs who want to keep Britain in the single market and the customs union to seek to amend the legislation.

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