Boris Johnson pleaded with Tory MPs not to support measures to block a no-deal Brexit amid speculation he could call an election if he loses the Commons showdown.
The Prime Minister insisted “I don’t want an election, you don’t want an election” but he said he would not seek an extension to the Brexit deadline – which is what the cross-party alliance are demanding if there is not a deal.
In a statement in Downing Street following an unscheduled Cabinet meeting, Mr Johnson urged his MPs not to join Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in backing a “pointless” delay.
Mr Johnson had to contend with the noise of protesters at the gates of Downing Street as he delivered his statement.
He said if MPs voted against the Government and backed the cross-party Bill they would “chop the legs” out from under the UK’s position in negotiating a deal with the EU.
He said: “I say, to show our friends in Brussels that we are united in our purpose, MPs should vote with the Government against Corbyn’s pointless delay.
“I want everybody to know there are no circumstances in which I will ask Brussels to delay. We are leaving on October 31, no ifs or buts.”
The Prime Minister claimed the chances of a Brexit deal are rising and he was “encouraged by the progress we are making” with Brussels.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond and ex-justice secretary David Gauke are among the senior Tories who have put their name to cross-party legislation which the group hopes to push through the Commons this week.
If MPs agree on Tuesday to allow the cross-party group to seize control of Commons business, the legislation will be considered the following day.
Under the terms of the proposed law, the Government must seek a delay to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU until January 31, 2020 if there is no agreement with Brussels in place by October 19 and Parliament has not approved a no-deal Brexit.
Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said it could be Parliament’s “last chance” to stop a “reckless and damaging” no-deal Brexit.
The Prime Minister put potential Tory rebels on notice that they face losing the whip and being barred from standing for the party if they back the measures.
In comments viewed as a signal that he will call an election if he is defeated, a Number 10 source said the vote will be “an expression of confidence in (the) Government’s negotiating position to secure a deal and will be treated as such”.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg also described the showdown when MPs return from their summer break as “essentially a confidence matter”.
In the past, before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the loss of a vote on an issue being treated as a matter of confidence would normally trigger an election.
Mr Johnson restated his “no ifs or but” commitment to the October 31 date and claimed one of the reasons why progress was being made in talks with Brussels was because “we are utterly determined to strengthen our position by getting ready to come out regardless, come what may”.
He said: “If there is one thing that can hold us back in these talks it is the sense in Brussels that MPs may find some way to cancel the referendum
“Or that tomorrow MPs will vote – with Jeremy Corbyn – for yet another pointless delay.”
The Prime Minister’s statement came as Tory MPs enjoyed a reception in the gardens of Downing Street – after being ordered to hand in their phones.
Earlier, Mr Johnson was accused of “goading” some Tory MPs to rebel so he can force a snap general election having purged opponents of a no-deal Brexit from the party.
Mr Gauke accused the Prime Minister of deliberately trying to lose votes to block a deal-less departure this week.
The ex-cabinet minister, head of the so-called “Gaukeward squad” of Tory rebels, said the Prime Minister’s move was an “unusual” and “particularly confrontational” approach.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he has not been subject to the usual “cajoling” from Cabinet allies to urge him to support the Government’s line.
“I think they seem to be quite prepared for there to be a rebellion, then to purge those who support the rebellion from the party,” he said.
Meanwhile Mr Hammond wrote to the PM asking him to set out details of his plan to renegotiate the Brexit deal with Brussels in an apparent attempt to get Mr Johnson to show whether he is serious about avoiding a no-deal exit.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who called a meeting of his shadow cabinet in Salford to discuss tactics, said: “First we must come together to stop no-deal – this week could be our last chance.
“We are working with other parties to do everything necessary to pull our country back from the brink. Then we need a general election.”
Former prime minister Tony Blair used a speech in London to urge Labour not to support any push by Downing Street for an early general election, but demand a Brexit referendum instead.