May faces new threat as Tory rebels decry shift on withdrawal Bill

Backbenchers say PM broke promise over parliament’s powers in event of no-deal Brexit

Trouble ahead: British prime minister Theresa May. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Trouble ahead: British prime minister Theresa May. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire


Theresa May faces a fresh defeat on the EU withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords on Monday after Downing Street defended her last-minute change to an amendment on parliament’s powers in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Conservative backbench rebels said the prime minister’s change was inconsistent with promises she made them to avoid defeat in a House of Commons last Tuesday.

“The prime minister listened to those across the house who called for the ability to express their views in a no-deal scenario, and we’ve put forward an amendment which will be debated next week,” Ms May’s official spokesperson said.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve believed he had reached a deal with the government early on Thursday afternoon on a new amendment that would reflect the essence of an amendment he had tabled. Mr Grieve’s amendment would require the government to come to parliament for approval seven days after an agreement with the EU is concluded. 

If there was 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. And if there was no Brexit deal by February 15th, 2019, parliament could direct the government on how it should proceed with the negotiations.

But shortly before the 5pm deadline for tabling amendments on Thursday, the government tabled a new version. 

This said that if no exit deal was agreed with the EU by January 21st, 2019, a minister would have to come to the Commons to make a statement on how the government intended to proceed. MPs would then vote on “a motion in neutral terms” noting that the Commons had “considered the matter of the statement”.

Such a motion could not be amended, so MPs would be unable to tell the government what to do next.

Three situations

“The amendment respects the tests set out by the PM and the Brexit secretary this week. We’ve included as a result, three situations that would trigger a debate and a vote. This ensures that in all circumstances, parliament can hold the government to account while also allowing the government to deliver on the will of the people as expressed in the referendum. And that will be debated next week,” the prime minister’s spokesperson said.

“The PM said she would address the substance of Dominic Grieve’s amendment, subject to her red line that parliament could not mandate the government and that’s what our amendment does.”

The debate moves to the Lords on Monday, where Mr Grieve’s amendment is likely to be approved and sent back to the Commons for debate next Wednesday. Brexiteers believe the government can defeat the amendment with the help of pro-Brexit Labour MPs but Conservative whips are more cautious.

Last December, the government was defeated on an amendment on the same issue of a vote for parliament on the Brexit deal, when only two pro-Brexit Labour MPs crossed the floor to oppose it.