Theresa May is back on collision course with her Tory ‘Remainer rebel’ MPs after the Government suffered yet another major defeat over Brexit in the House of Lords.
In a move that leaves the Prime Minister facing her biggest Parliamentary showdown yet on the issue, peers voted by 354 to 235 to give MPs a ‘meaningful vote’ on the outcome of any final EU deal with Brussels.
After an unusually heated debate - including one Lord calling another an “idiot” - the Government suffered the landmark defeat at the hands of rebel Tories, Labour, Lib Dem and crossbench peers. The majority was a 119.
Watched by leading Tory rebels Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry, the peers’ resounding backing for the cross-party amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill means that it will now go forward to the Commons for a fresh knife-edge vote on Wednesday.
The amendment, tabled by former Tory minister Lord Hailsham, seeks to prevent May from presenting MPs with a ‘take it or leave it’ Brexit deal – and from quitting the EU with no deal at all.
Under the plan, which Hailsham dubbed ‘Grieve 2’ in honour of the former Attorney General, the Commons would have the right to “approve” or reject a motion on the outcome of May’s talks with Brussels.
The proposal amounts to the compromise that Grieve and his rebels thought that May had privately agreed before they called off a crunch vote last week.
However following an intervention by Brexit Secretary David Davis, May decided the rebels’ demands risked binding her hands in future negotiations.
In his speech, Hailsham said that he and other Tories were putting the national interest before party interest. “We are the High Court of Parliament. We are not party hacks,” he said.
Brexiteers such as former Tory leader Michael Howard and Andrew Robathan objected that the unelected House of Lords was overstepping its role.
And in a rare flash of anger in the Upper House, Lord Robathan was then heckled by an anti-Brexit peer who said: “You are an idiot”.
Hailsham - a hereditary peer - hit back at those who accused him of trying to subvert the will of the 17 million people who voted to Leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.
He stressed that under his plans the motion was “amendable but not justiciable”, in other words it would not be legally binding on the Prime Minister. He said however that “the political consequences” of ignoring the Commons “would be very grave”.
Tory peer Lord True was damning about Hailsham’s move, however, dismissing his speech as “Disraelian oratory on a Gladstonian scale”.
“People outside are getting a little bit tired of the Parliamentary games. They actually want to know when they are going to get Brexit, when it will be delivered and when it will be done.”
He also accused Hailsham of being “Mr Dominic Grieve’s representative in heaven” and said that the Lords should not be used as an “enforcement posse” for Tory rebels.
But crossbencher Lord Bilimoria said Grieve’s courage in standing up to the Government deserved “the Parliamentary equivalent of the Victoria Cross”.
The bill now heads back to the Commons on Wednesday. If a dozen or more Tory MPs rebel, they could inflict a significant defeat on the Prime Minister.
Government whips are confident they have the numbers to survive, when Labour MPs in Brexit areas are taken into account.