UK government suffers Commons defeat on no-deal Brexit
Parliament votes to restrict taxation powers if Britain leaves EU without agreement
Theresa May has suffered a major defeat on Brexit after MPs voted to restrict the government’s taxation powers if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal. MPs backed the amendment to the finance Bill by 303 to 296, with 20 Conservatives including six former cabinet ministers voting against the government.
Downing Street played down the significance of the amendment, which it characterised as inconvenient rather than capable of blocking a no-deal Brexit. But the amendment’s supporters, led by former Labour minister Yvette Cooper, made clear that it marked the start of a parliamentary guerrilla campaign that will target other Bills with amendments to hobble a no-deal Brexit.
“I’m worried that we could come to the crunch and parliament wouldn’t have the powers to stop it happening. And I think we have a responsibility not to just stand by. I believe the government should rule out no deal, but I think if it won’t then parliament must make sure that it has the powers to do so if it comes to the crunch,” Ms Cooper said.
Ms Cooper acknowledged that the amendment cannot stop a no-deal Brexit. But it means that the government’s power to keep some areas of tax administration working after a no-deal Brexit would require parliamentary authorisation.
Former Conservative minister Oliver Letwin said Britain was not prepared to leave the EU without a deal and he predicted that the cross-party co-operation that secured Tuesday night’s victory would continue.
“The majority tonight that is expressed in this House will sustain itself. We will not allow a no-deal exit to occur at the end of March,” he said.
Conservative Brexiteers criticised the government for allowing itself to be defeated on an amendment that it could have accepted on the grounds that it would have little practical effect. Former Brexit minister Steve Baker suggested that the whips wanted to “deliberately advertise weakness” ahead of next week’s vote on Mrs May’s Brexit deal.
MPs on Tuesday received revised security advice following incidents of harassment by far-right mobs outside parliament. Speaker John Bercow has written to Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick to express his concern about what he described as “a type of fascism” that was threatening MPs.
”It’s one thing demonstrating from a distance with placards, or calling out slogans – and another, where the protester invades the personal space of a member, subjects him or her to a tirade of menacing, racist, sexist and misogynistic abuse, and follows them back to their place of work,” he said.
Conservative Anna Soubry, an outspoken critic of Brexit, was jostled and hectored outside parliament on Monday and called a “Nazi” by far-right extremists. She criticised police for failing to intervene and called for those who harassed MPs to be prosecuted under public order legislation.
”There is a very clear distinction between peaceful, lawful protest and robust debate – holding MPs to account, and it can be face to face – and some of the scenes we have seen in the last six weeks here at parliament,”she told the BBC.