Tory rebels warn Theresa May she could lose bid to enshrine Brexit date in law

Posted On: 
14th December 2017

Tory rebels have warned Theresa May that she faces another Commons defeat over her plans to enshrine the date of Brexit in law.

Dominic Grieve led the Tory Brexit rebellion.
Credit: 
PA Images

MPs are set to vote on the move next Wednesday night before Parliament goes into recess for Christmas and New Year.

The Prime Minister tabled an amendment to the Government's own EU Withdrawal Bill setting out that Britain will quit the bloc at 11pm on 29 March, 2019.

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But critics have said the change is unnecessary and could hamper Mrs May's negotiations with Brussels.

Next week's vote comes hard on the heels of the Government's embarrassing defeat last night over calls for MPs to be given a legally-binding vote on the final Brexit deal.

Despite making a string of concessions to Tory backbenchers, 11 of them still voted with the opposition to inflict the 309-305 reverse.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve, who led the rebellion, said he was willing to vote against the Government again.

He told BBC's Newsnight: "I hope very much [another rebellion] won’t be necessary because if the Government comes back with that date I’m sure the Government will be defeated and I have no desire to defeat the Government or be involved in the Government’s defeat a second time."

But Mr Grieve added: "I’m not very concerned about knives being out for me. I’m in parliament to do my duty by my constituents and by my country. I’m sorry to hear if colleagues think so ill of me but it’s not going to affect what I do one jot."

Stephen Hammond, who was sacked as Conservative vice-chairman for voting against the Government, refused to rule out rebelling again next week.

He said: "I hope I don’t have to rebel again. I think a lot of people will view that proposition as unnecessary, probably not a good way to negotiate."

Tory grandee Ken Clarke said the plan to stamp the Brexit date of the face of the bill was "designed to cheer up eurosceptics" and said rebels would "remove" it.

He told Sky News: "This amendment to the bill is quite unnecessary and in certain circumstances could be ludicrous when everybody from every country wants to carry on the negotiations and the British say 'I’m sorry; we’ve put it in an act of parliament that we are not allowed to extend it beyond 11 o'clock when the clock chimes'."

But arriving in Brussels for an EU council summit, Theresa May refused to give ground to the rebels.

Asked if she was prepared to compromise, the Prime Minister said the Government had won 35 out of 36 votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill and insisted the legislation was making "good progress".