Huge blow for Theresa May as government loses crunch Brexit vote on eve of Brussels summit

Posted On: 
13th December 2017

Theresa May's authority as Prime Minister has been dealt a huge blow after a major rebellion by Conservative MPs saw her lose a crunch vote on the Government's flagship Brexit bill.

Theresa May had claimed the amendment could delay Brexit.
Credit: 
PA Images

MPs voted 309 to 305 in favour of an amendment tabled by former attorney general Dominic Grieve calling for parliament to be given a "meaningful vote" on the final deal Mrs May strikes with Brussels.

Cheers and applause broke out in the Commons when the result was announced.

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An estimated 14 Conservative MPs voted against the Government, wiping out Mrs May's slender working majority.

The embarrassing defeat - the first for the Government on its EU Withdrawal Bill - came the night before the Prime Minister flies to Brussels for a European Council summit which will give the green light for trade talks between the EU and UK to begin.

Ministers fought a desperate rear-guard action by offering a series of last-minute concessions to the Tory rebels in an attempt to stave off defeat.

Brexit Secretary David Davis tried to head off the rebellion with a letter to colleagues promising a vote on the deal “as soon as possible after negotiations”.

He also issued a written statement promising not to implement any parts of the agreement until that vote has taken place.

Justice minister Dominic Raab also laid out a series of concessions in a desperate attempt to persuade Tory MPs to back the Government.

But just minutes before the vote, Mr Grieve declared: "It's too late, I'm sorry, you cannot treat the House in this fashion."

Mrs May had earlier rejected his amendment, arguing that giving MPs a vote on the final deal could even delay Brexit itself.

"We were very clear that we won't commence any statutory instruments until that meaningful vote has taken place," she said. "But as currently drafted what the amendment says is we shouldn't put any of those arrangements, any of those statutory instruments, into place until the Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill has reached the statute book.

"That could be at a very late stage in the proceedings, which could mean we are not able to have the orderly and smooth exit from the EU that we wish to have."

But in a Commons debate on the bill, Mr Grieve accused ministers of failing to listen to his and the rebels' concerns, and that he had been forced to rebel.

He said: "There is a time for everybody to stand up and be counted. As Churchill said: ‘He’s a good party man: he puts the party before himself and the country before his party and that is what I intend to do'."

Anna Soubry, a leading Conservative opponent of Brexit, told the BBC: "The person who is also being let down is the Prime Minister because she's put trust in her ministers to deliver this piece of legislation.

"I think this legislation was drafted before the general election for a hard Brexit on the basis that we would have a majority of 100. Well, we lost our majority and we're not having a hard Brexit because I know our Prime Minister doesn't want it.

"So we're going to have another piece of legislation, probably at the same time as this legislation is going through parliament and it will undo some of this legislation. It's the stuff of complete madness."

But former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith accused the rebels of "grandstanding".

He said: "Tying the Government's hands in the way that he would wish to tie them so early on is quite wrong."