How Theresa May saw off another Brexit rebellion
EU Withdrawal Bill set to become law within days after last-minute compromise
Theresa May has seen off yet another Tory rebellion over Brexit, following a last-minute compromise on the EU Withdrawal Bill.
Up to 12 Conservative MPs had reportedly been ready to vote against the whip and back an amendment to ensure that MPs had a “meaningful vote” if there was no deal by 21 January - effectively giving parliament the power to stop Britain leaving the EU in the absence of a negotiated settlement.
Why did the rebels back down?
Amid what The Guardian describes as “a welter of procedural technicalities about the powers of MPs and the potential role of the judges”, lead rebel Dominic Grieve withdrew his support for his own amendment after accepting Government reassurances about its respect for the power of MPs to hold it to account.
Grieve, who earlier said he woke up in the small hours worrying that his actions would bring down the PM, said after the vote: “We’ve managed to reach a compromise without breaking the Government – and I think some people don’t realise we were getting quite close to that”.
In the end, just six Tories defied the whip, including former justice minister Philip Lee, former chancellor Ken Clarke and arch-Remainer Anna Soubry. The vote passed by 319 to 303.
What does the compromise mean?
Ministers made a small concession, granting Commons Speaker John Bercow a role in determing how parliament will proceed if Britain cannot reach agreement with the EU, and assuring rebels that time would be granted for debate.
According to The Times, the rebels also received legal advice which “effectively made clear that MPs would be able to trigger a vote calling for a delay to Britain leaving the EU in the case of no deal having been reached”.
What about Labour?
Four Brexit-supporting Labour MPs rebelled against their leadership and backed the Government.
But the party labelled the compromise on a so-called “meaningful vote” meaningless, arguing it could not bind ministers’ hands because negotiations would be over by the time MPs were voting.
Is May stronger as a result?
The general consensus among political pundits seems to be that the Government gave little away, but Grieve got enough to save face.
Yet the PM’s decision to avert another rebellion rather than outvoting the Tory rebels means “their support on major issues such as membership of a customs union or the single market remains untested”, says The Guardian.
Nicky Morgan, another frequent rebel who backed down yesterday, echoed Grieve’s sentiments that she did not wish to see May “destabilised or undermined” ahead of next week's summit of EU leaders, but warned of further battles to come over the UK's trade and customs arrangements with the EU. Relationships between MPs had been “strained almost beyond belief”, she said.
The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg says the government should be worried by how tight the vote was, even after the compromise was struck with Grieve, which could be a sign of “big problems ahead”.
What happens next?
The bill, which returned to the Lords immediately after the Commons vote, is expected be waved through by the upper chamber and could be on the statute book within days.