Theresa May avoids Commons defeat as Tory rebels accept last-minute Brexit compromise

Posted On: 
20th June 2018

Theresa May has survived the latest showdown with her own backbenchers after Tory rebels accepted a last-minute compromise on the Government's flagship Brexit bill.

Theresa May has survived another Brexit showdown with her own MPs.
Credit: 
PA Images

In a dramatic move, Brexit Secretary David Davis tabled a written ministerial statement pledging that MPs will get a meaningful vote if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal.

He said the Commons Speaker would be able to rule whether any Government motion on the deal was amendable, thereby allowing MPs to potentially defeat ministers.

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That was enough to satisfy chief Tory rebel Dominic Grieve, who had tabled an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill seeking to give Parliament the power to block a no deal Brexit.

He told MPs: "I am prepared to accept the Government's difficulty and in the circumstances to accept the form of amendment it wants."

Mr Grieve said he would still be moving his own amendment - but would not be voting for it. The amendment was eventually defeated by 319 votes to 303.

A Labour source told PoliticsHome: "Dominic Grieve has raised more white flags than at a regatta."

The Liberal Democrats also piled in, with Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake accusing Mr Grieve of an embarassing U-turn.

"Just like the Grand Old Duke of York, Grieve has marched his troops to the top of the hill only to get cold feet and retreat with his tail between his legs," Mr Brake said.
 
He added: "Despite the clear calamity that May and Davis are making of Brexit, the so-called Tory rebels have lost their bottle and caved into yet another pathetic government compromise that isn’t worth the paper it is written on."

The Government's concession also won the backing of former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, another of those who had threatened to vote against the Government.

The rebels had accused the Prime Minister of going back on a deal struck last week to give MPs a meaningful vote on the deal she reaches with Brussels.

With more than a dozen Conservative MPs preparing to join forces with Labour to defeat the Government, Mr Davis tabled his statement less than an hour before the EU Withdrawal Bill was due to be debated again in the Commons.

The Brexit Secretary told MPs it was "a fair and serious proposal which demonstrates a significant flexibility that the Government has already shown in addressing the concerns of this House".

Six Tories ended up voting against the Government - Ken Clarke, Antoinette Sandbach,  Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Philip Lee, who quit as justice minister last week in protest at Theresa May's Brexit strategy.

Ms Soubry told MPs: "This needs to be in statute. I will be voting for this amendment because it's in the interests of all my constituents."

'MOST IMPORTANCE PEACETIME ISSUE'

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer had urged MPs to back the Grieve amendment, which he said would ensure that the Commons was not "silenced" on the final Brexit deal.

He said: "We need to be clear what this amendment is and what it is not. It is not about frustrating or blocking Brexit. It is not about tying the hands of the UK negotiators. And it would not empower to direct the Government in the ongoing negotiations. 

"It is simply about this House playing a meaningful role in the terms of the final Brexit deal.

"It's about making sure that on the most important peacetime issue this House has faced for a generation this House is not silenced."

Four Labour MPs defied their frontbench to vote with the Government - John Mann, Kate Hoey, Graham Stringer and Frank Field - while another four abstained.

In a sign of how worried the Government was about the prospect of losing, ministers ditched a long-standing convention excusing ill MPs from needing to be in the chamber to vote.

Usually, they are "nodded through" by rival party whips so long as they are in or near the Parliamentary estate.

But Government whips demanded that ill MPs were physically present in the division lobbies for the crucial vote.

The move drew criticism from Labour figures, who branded it "shameful and very shortsighted".