Yet another knife-edge vote on Brexit looms for Theresa May

Conservative pro-European rebels will take heart from Lords’ outcome

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve: agreed to remove language which would allow MPs to “direct” the government on what to do if it failed to agree a Brexit deal.  Photograph: Rick Findler/PA

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve: agreed to remove language which would allow MPs to “direct” the government on what to do if it failed to agree a Brexit deal. Photograph: Rick Findler/PA

 

A week after she saved her government from defeat with a last-minute promise to compromise with Conservative backbench rebels, Theresa May faces another knife-edge vote on Brexit in the Commons on Wednesday.

There is some dispute about what the prime minister promised 14 rebels in her Commons office 10 minutes before the vote last Tuesday. But there is little doubt that rebel leader Dominic Grieve had agreed wording with the government by Thursday afternoon on an amendment giving MPs a meaningful vote on a no-deal Brexit until ministers intervened to change the wording.

Grieve had acknowledged some flaws in his original amendment and he agreed to remove language which would allow MPs to “direct” the government on what to do if it failed to agree a Brexit deal. The amendment introduced by Viscount Hailsham in the Lords, which will return to the Commons on Wednesday, reflects those changes.

Hailsham also made clear that the motion MPs would vote on in a no-deal scenario would not be justiciable, so it could not be enforced by the courts. It would, however, be amendable and carry stronger political weight than the government’s amendment would have allowed.

Ceding to rebels

Brexiteers last week complained privately that the prime minister had caved to the rebels unnecessarily because the chief whip was too cautious in calculating the votes. Although only two Labour MPs – Kate Hoey and Frank Field – voted with the government on a similar amendment last year, Brexiteers believed that others would have crossed the floor this time.

Brexiteers were further buoyed at the weekend when Grieve suggested that the government could collapse over the amendment, a prospect that chills the hearts of most Conservative MPs. Last year’s snap election left many with drastically reduced majorities and although they claim that Britain has seen “peak Corbyn”, few are ready to test that theory just yet.

The Lords voted by a bigger-than-expected margin in favour of the meaningful vote amendment after Hailsham’s passionate defence of parliament’s rights after he was accused of trying to frustrate Brexit.

“I don’t believe in Brexit – that’s perfectly true. I think it’s a national calamity. But what I believe above all is the House of Commons should have a decisive say one way or another,” he said.

Whatever about Labour’s Brexiteers, Tory pro-European rebels will have been heartened by the Lords’ vote, and none of those who listened to the prime minister’s promises in her office last week are likely to follow her through the lobbies again on Wednesday.

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