Theresa May swerves Brexit revolt after major climbdown

Theresa May has swerved a major revolt over Brexit after caving in to pressure from rebel Remainers.

The Government narrowly dodged a defeat over the issue of giving MPs a ‘meaningful vote’ on the final Brexit deal after promising significant concessions as part of a last-ditch offer.

MPs backed the Government by rejecting a Lords amendment that would have allowed Parliament to force the UK back into negotiations if they did not approve the final Brexit deal achieved by ministers.

But the PM today promised to rewrite the Bill when it returns to the Lords in order to include a scaled-back version of the amendment in question.

Rebel MPs Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen both tweeted that they would support the Government after a frantic 11th hour talks between the Whips and the party’s pro-EU faction.

The climbdown means that MPs will have control over the UK’s negotiating position with Brussels if ministers fail to strike a deal.

It also essentially kills any realistic prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

The Government is expected to add two out of three elements the last-minute compromise amendment tabled by rebel leader Dominic Grieve to the wording of the bill:

  1. Within seven days of the ministers agreeing a Brexit deal, a motion to approve the deal will go to the Commons.

  2. If no Brexit deal is agreed by 30 November, the Government must seek the approval of MPs for its next course of action.

Critics said that doing this will remove the UK’s ability to walk away from talks with the EU, therefore weakening their negotiating position.

Commenting on the compromise, the Brexit department put out a statement saying they would not agree to anything that would ‘tie their hands’.

The spokesman said: ‘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.’

If the rebels who backed down today are unhappy with what actually appears in the Lords, they will have the opportunity to vote against it again when the bill makes its way back to the Commons as it ping-pongs between the houses.

MPs line up to vote in the House of Commons as the Government’s flagship Brexit legislation returns to the house (PA Images)
MPs line up to vote in the House of Commons as the Government’s flagship Brexit legislation returns to the house (PA Images)

The issue of giving MPs a ‘meaningful vote’ was seen as the most likely topic to provoke a rebellion, with a Government defeat looking close to unavoidable.

Theresa May received a nasty blow on Tuesday morning when MP Philip Lee quit as justice minister, adding fuel to rumours of a defeat.

After MPs had their say Mr Grieve confirmed he voted with the Government after receiving assurances, telling Sky News: ‘I am quite satisfied we are going to get a meaningful vote.’

The bill is now expected to pass through the Commons unscathed, after a potentially explosive clash over the customs union on Wednesday was defused by a compromise amendment.

The Government is expected to back an alternative amendment to the Lords’ customs union demand, tabled in tandem by the backbenchers Nicky Morgan, a prominent remainer, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading Brexiter.

Mrs May won a succession of votes on Tuesday overturning Lords amendments, including one which would have removed the date of Brexit on March 29 2019 from the text of the Bill.

Theresa May looks set to avoid a humiliating defeat over Brexit after last-minute pledges were made to Remainer rebels (Reuters/Simon Dawson)
Theresa May looks set to avoid a humiliating defeat over Brexit after last-minute pledges were made to Remainer rebels (Reuters/Simon Dawson)

What amendments did the House of Lords make?

The House of Lords made 15 amendments to the bill in total:

  1. Customs Union
    This clause would commit the UK to trying to negotiate a customs union with the EU. This idea is in direct conflict with Theresa May’s current position: she has insisted that Britain will not stay part of the customs union or single market after Brexit.

  2. ‘Retained EU Law’
    Designed to protect the rights of UK citizens, this change would prevent the Government from making any changes to laws pertaining to employment, consumer standards and environmental standards, without MPs voting to do so.

  3. Charter of Fundamental Rights
    The third amendment would require the UK to keep the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights on the statute books.

  4. Protecting Power of Legal Challenge
    This amendment would essentially make it more difficult for future Governments to change EU laws after they have been moved into EU law.

  5. ‘Legal Compliance’
    The fifth amendment would mean that Brits could go to court in the UK over failures to comply with EU laws.

  6. Henry VIII Powers
    The so-called Henry VIII powers would allow ministers to change laws with reduced scrutiny. This amendment reduces those powers.

  7. ‘Meaningful Role’ for Parliament
    One of the most significant amendments, this gives MPs the power to reject the final Brexit deal agreed between the Government and the EU.

  8. ‘Mandate for Negotiations’
    Tabled by cross-party agreement, this amendment forces the Government to gain Parliament’s approval to open ‘phase two’ negotiations with the bloc.

  9. Rights for Refugees
    Asylum seekers would be allowed to join family members in the UK under the current EU rules if this change is passed.

  10. Northern Ireland
    The tenth amendment would put support for the Good Friday Agreement into the EU Withdrawal Bill.

  11. Future Cooperation
    This clause says that future Governments will be able to replicate EU laws and participate in EU agencies.

  12. Removal of ‘Brexit Day’
    Under this proposal the exit date of 29 March 2019 would be removed from the bill.

  13. The Norway Model
    Another of the key changes, this amendment would keep the UK in the European Economic Area, and subsequently in the single market, an approach known as the Norway model.

  14. ‘Sifting Regulations’
    This change would force ministers to accept recommendations for Brexit regulations made by the Lords and by MPs.

  15. The Environment
    The final amendment would force the UK to keep the EU’s current environmental regulations and to create a powerful watchdog to ensure rules are followed.