Defeat on Brexit Bill could delay negotiations, says David Davis
Pro-Brexit media react angrily as rebel Conservatives push through amendments
Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Wednesday. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA
The timetable for negotiating Brexit will be “very compressed” following Wednesday night’s defeat for the government in the House of Commons, Brexit secretary David Davis has told MPs. He said the amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which was pushed through by an alliance of rebel Conservatives and opposition parties, would prevent the government from passing implementation legislation until after MPs had voted on the withdrawal agreement.
“Now those who want to see a smooth and orderly exit from the European Union hopefully will want to see a working statute book. So we will have to think about how we respond to it, but as always we take the House of Commons’s view seriously and will continue to do so,” he said.
Mr Davis said the agreement Theresa May reached in Brussels last week, which EU leaders are expected to endorse on Friday, made a no-deal Brexit “massively less probable”. The prime minister sought to put a brave face on the parliamentary defeat as she arrived in Brussels, although she said it was disappointing.
“I’m disappointed with the amendment but actually the EU withdrawal Bill is making good progress through the House of Commons and we are on course to deliver Brexit,” she said.
Pro-Brexit newspapers reacted angrily to the Conservative rebellion, with the Daily Mail publishing pictures of the rebel MPs above the headline “Proud of yourselves?”
Former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve, who drafted the amendment, said he had received death threats since Wednesday’s vote.
“The thing which continues to cause me concern is not that people will disagree vigorously with the positions we take, but that the atmosphere is so febrile that it leads firstly to people not listening to what the debate is about, secondly, suggests that any questions around Brexit amount to an intention to sabotage and, thirdly, results in some people expressing themselves in terms that at times include death threats,” he told the Guardian.
The government faces the prospect of a second defeat next week on its own amendment to the Bill, which would put into law the date of withdrawal at the end of March 2019. Downing Street said on Thursday that it had no plans to withdraw the amendment, which critics say will deprive the government of leeway if the negotiations run late.
Former Conservative education secretary Nicky Morgan, one of the rebels, wrote in the Evening Standard that the government should think again.
“We want the government not to move the amendment about the date. As we saw last week, negotiations aren’t always completed on time so having an exit date could be unhelpful,” she said.
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson played down the importance of Wednesday night’s vote, describing Brexit as unstoppable.
“I cannot believe for the life of me that when it comes to it parliament will vote to stop or reverse the Brexit process or frustrate the will of the British people, that’s just not going to happen,” he said.