MPs secure the right to greater control over Brexit process

Theresa May’s deal in danger as ministers found in contempt of parliament

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, who said on Tuesday the vote showed Theresa May’s government no longer commanded a majority in the House. Photograph: PA Wire

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, who said on Tuesday the vote showed Theresa May’s government no longer commanded a majority in the House. Photograph: PA Wire

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The House of Commons has voted to give MPs the right to direct Theresa May’s government on what course to take if her Brexit deal is rejected next week. In a major defeat for the government, 26 Conservative MPs joined Labour and other opposition parties to pass an amendment to a procedural motion by 321 votes to 299.

The amendment, proposed by former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve, will allow MPs to amend any motion the government brings forward if the prime minister fails to win a majority for her Brexit deal. MPs could vote to rule out leaving the EU without a deal, or to pursue a close, Norway-style relationship with the EU or to call a second referendum on Brexit.

Such a vote would not be legally binding on the government but Mr Grieve said it would see parliament taking control of the Brexit process.

‘Taking back control’

“MPs are tonight starting the process of taking back control. No longer must the will of parliament – reflecting the will of the people – be diminished. More and more MPs are concluding that the government’s proposed deal is not what was promised two years ago, it’s a much worse deal than the one we’ve already got in the EU and, if approved would mean Brexit goes on forever because it leaves all the big questions unanswered. Parliament must now take back control and then give the final decision back to the public because, in the end, only the people can sort this out,” he said.

Among those who supported the amendment were allies of the prime minister, including her former deputy Damian Green. The DUP and four Labour eurosceptics voted with the government against the amendment.

Another serious defeat

The vote followed another serious defeat for the government earlier on Tuesday when MPs voted that it was in contempt of parliament for failing to comply with a motion demanding that it should publish the attorney general’s full legal advice on the Brexit deal. Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom said after the vote, which saw the DUP oppose the government, that the full advice would now be published.

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, said the vote showed that Mrs May’s government no longer commanded a majority in the House.

“Today’s finding of contempt is a badge of shame for this government. It is of huge constitutional and political significance. Never before has the House of Commons found ministers in contempt of parliament. It is highly regrettable that the government has let it come to this, but ministers left the opposition with no option but to bring forward these proceedings,” he said.

Opening five days of debate ahead of a “meaningful vote” on the Brexit deal, the prime minister urged MPs to support her compromise in the interest of national unity.

‘Corrosive’

“This argument has gone on long enough, it is corrosive to our politics and life depends on compromise. And we can choose to settle this issue now by backing the deal in this motion,” she said.

She acknowledged unhappiness among Conservatives about elements of the deal, particularly the Northern Ireland backstop. But she said there could be no withdrawal agreement without a backstop to guarantee that the Border would remain open after Brexit.

“I do not say that this deal is perfect. It was never going to be – that is the nature of a negotiation. Yes, it is a compromise. It speaks to the hopes and desires of our fellow citizens who voted to leave and those who voted to stay in. We will not bring our country together if we seek a relationship that gives everything to one side of the argument and nothing to the other. We should not let the search for the perfect Brexit prevent a good Brexit that delivers for the British people,” she said. 

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