Brexit: May agrees to amend Withdrawal Bill to appease Tory rebels
Proposal to give parliament veto over any EU departure deal beaten after promises to MPs
Conservative rebels have warned Theresa May that her government could face defeat on the EU Withdrawal Bill next week unless a new amendment reflects their concerns.
MPs voted by 324 to 298 to reject an amendment from the House of Lords that would have given parliament a veto over any Brexit deal and empowered MPs to tell the government what to do if it failed to agree a deal with the EU.
But the government only escaped defeat after the prime minister promised Tory rebels to draft a new amendment that would strengthen parliament’s hand when a Brexit deal is agreed or if there is no deal.
“I’ve just voted with the government following the assurances from the PM that we got this afternoon that our concerns would be addressed,” said former attorney general Dominic Grieve.
“We had a personal assurance that we would find a way of addressing the concerns which would be encapsulated in the amendment . . . to find a common way forward. I’m fairly confident that we will be able to do that.”
Mr Grieve proposed an amendment that would require the government to come to parliament for approval seven days after an agreement is concluded. If there is no agreement by November 30th, the government would have to move a motion in the Commons, setting out how it intends to proceed and seeking the approval of the House for that course of action.
During the course of a three-hour debate in the Commons on Tuesday, the government agreed to reflect these demands in a new amendment to the Bill when it returns to the Lords next week.
But it is resisting the third element in Mr Grieve’s amendment, which says that if there is no Brexit deal by February 15th, 2019, parliament could direct the government on how it should proceed with the negotiations. Brexiteers fear that this would mean that parliament could insist that Britain should seek to remain in the EU rather than leaving without a deal.
“On the meaningful vote we have agreed to look for a compromise when this goes back to the Lords. The Brexit secretary has set out three tests that any new amendment has to meet - not undermining the negotiations, not changing the constitutional role of Parliament and government in negotiating international treaties, and respecting the referendum result. We have not, and will not, agree to the House of Commons binding the government’s hands in the negotiations,” a Brexit department spokesperson said on Tuesday night.
Phillip Lee, who resigned as a justice minister on Tuesday morning in protest against the government’s approach to the Brexit negotiations, told MPs that the decision had been devastating.
“For me personally, this is a matter of deep principle. I believe in the Burkean principle that our institutions guarantee our human rights. Most important of all, a government’s first responsibility is to protect their citizens. That is usually understood in military terms, but I believe it applies more generally,” he said.
“It means that, sometimes, when a majority of our people want something that is against the good of society, the government and parliament have a responsibility to protect us. That was the case on the death penalty, when for decades politicians went against the majority view and refused to reinstate it. I believe it now needs to be the case on the Brexit process.”
Speaking on a visit to Germany, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney warned London not to let internal British cabinet politics stymie progress on Brexit talks at this month’s EU summit.
“Part of the problem is that Britain is negotiating with itself and not negotiating in Brussels with EU negotiators, and that has been the problem for many months now,” he said.