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Government avoids defeat on Brexit bill… but at a cost

Theresa May has averted an embarrassing defeat over the government's EU Withdrawal Bill by giving MPs a say on the next steps for Brexit if she fails to secure a withdrawal agreement by the end of November.

The concession allowed the government to defeat a Lords amendment calling for parliament to have "a meaningful vote" on any eventual Brexit deal by 324 votes to 298. The victory was Pyrrhic, as the government's earlier climbdown all but ensures MPs will have an increased say on the terms of any deal.

The government's eleventh hour amendment, lifted in large parts from Tory Remainer Dominic Grieve's own proposal and to be presented to the Lords on Monday, is expected to give MPs the right to veto the government's strategy if it fails to secure a political agreement with the EU by 30 November.

A third development, which would allow MPs to direct the government on future talks if there is no resolution on the withdrawal agreement by 15 February, is also on the cards.

The debate, which lasted for nearly three hours, was split down the usual non-partisan lines that have emerged as a result of Brexit, with the likes of Labour's Kate Hoey and John Mann saying they would back the Conservative government, while Tories including Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry spoke in favour of Grieve.

Soubry made one of the most sobering points, telling MPs she knew of at least one colleague who would not vote with their conscience for fear of their safety, and that of their family and staff.

Phillip Lee, who resigned this morning, gave an impassioned speech from the "naughty corner" on the backbenches – flanked by Remainers including Bob Neill, Nicky Morgan, receiving congratulations for his decision by Soubry and Sarah Wollaston.

But while the well-worn arguments focusing on the nature of a meaningful vote were made, the real drama was taking place on the floor of the chamber where chief whip Julian Smith, solicitor general Robert Buckland and Brexit secretary David Davis as well as the Prime Minister's parliamentary private secretary (PPS) George Holingberry were in deep discussion with each other and Grieve, as they sought to avert an embarrassment for the government.

So-called mutineers including Antoinette Sandbach and Jonathan Djanogly indicated before the division they would not oppose the government – for now.

Shortly before MPs began voting, Sandbach praised the government for making "important concessions". Wollaston tweeted: "Following further assurances that further govt amendments will come forward in the Lords, I will now be supporting the govt."

In the last few days Remainers have been playing down the chances of a government defeat on the EU Withdrawal Bill, as they keep their powder dry for the forthcoming Trade and Customs Bills.

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