Belfast Telegraph

MPs 'take back control' as Tory rebels help inflict defeat in Brexit Bill vote

MPs have "taken back control" of the Brexit process and inflicted a humiliating House of Commons defeat on Theresa May with the help of 11 Tory rebels on a night of high drama.

In a damaging blow to the Prime Minister's already diminished authority, Tory rebels rallied around ringleader Dominic Grieve to back his attempt to ensure MPs have a "meaningful vote" on the withdrawal deal.

A dramatic last-minute concession by justice minister Dominic Raab was dismissed as "too late" by Mr Grieve, whose amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill squeezed through the Commons on a majority of four amid tense scenes in the chamber.

It means MPs and peers will be given more control over the Government's implementation of the withdrawal agreement, as ministers will have to pass a statute, which can be amended, before it takes effect.

The vote led to bitter recriminations in the Conservative Party, with 11 MPs joining Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP in backing the amendment, and a handful of others abstaining.

Mrs May, who will travel to a Brussels summit on Thursday where European Union leaders are expected to rubber-stamp negotiations moving on to trade, attempted to reassert control by sacking rebel MP Stephen Hammond from his role as Tory vice chairman.

But backers of a "soft" Brexit, including Tory rebels Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry, hailed the result.

Ms Morgan tweeted: "Tonight Parliament took control of the EU Withdrawal process".

And Ms Soubry told Sky News: "The truth is Parliament has been excluded from the whole of the Brexit process and now we're back in the frame and that means we can represent all our voters."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who will be cheered by the fact that only two of his own Brexiteer MPs rebelled to back the Government, said: "This defeat is a humiliating loss of authority for the Government on the eve of the European Council meeting.

"Labour has made the case since the referendum for a meaningful vote in Parliament on the terms of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.

"Theresa May has resisted democratic accountability. Her refusal to listen means she will now have to accept Parliament taking back control."

Mr Grieve said he had no option but to push his amendment to a vote because the Bill gave ministers "the biggest Henry VIII power ever conferred on Government" with no justification.

The former attorney general evoked Winston Churchill during the debate , telling the Commons: "There's a time for everybody to stand up and be counted" and stressing he put "the country before the party".

He stressed that his amendment would not stop Brexit.

"I felt it was a vote which had to be taken, particularly in view of the intransigence and difficulty we had in trying to reason with the Government over the last few days," Mr Grieve told BBC News.

He went on: "Unfortunately although we had a sensible discussion to begin with, it petered out at the end of last week despite my best endeavours.

"So in those circumstances I have to say it was the only thing open for me to do and I'd like to emphasise - it doesn't stop Brexit in any way.

"It actually was intended to try to make sure that Brexit takes place in an orderly manner."

Mr Raab said the "minor setback" would not frustrate Brexit

"It's not going to stop us leaving the EU in March 2019," he told the BBC.

But the vote provoked a furious backlash from Brexiteers.

Tory Nadine Dorries called for the deselection of rebel Tories for "undermining the PM", while accusing Mr Grieve of "treachery".

But rebel Tory Sarah Wollaston hit back on Twitter, saying: "Get over yourself Nadine."

In dramatic scenes in the Commons, Tory rebels shouted "too late" as Mr Raab outlined his concession and Government whips buzzed around the chamber in an attempt to win over rebel MPs.

As the division was called, would-be rebel Vicky Ford appeared to be wavering between division lobbies before being ushered towards the Government side by Chancellor Philip Hammond and Brexiteer MP James Cleverly.

Earlier, Ms Soubry revealed she had found a woman MP "upset and shaken" on Tuesday evening after a whip tried to persuade her not to revolt.

After the vote she hit out at the abuse faced by rebels, saying: "Just slagging people off and calling us mutineers and traitors and all the rest of it is not acceptable."

The Government said it was "disappointed" at the defeat but suggested it may seek to amend the Bill during later stages of its passage through Parliament.

A spokeswoman said: "We are as clear as ever that this Bill, and the powers within it, are essential.

"We will now determine whether further changes are needed to the Bill to ensure it fulfils its vital purpose."

A Downing Street spokesman said: "We respect the will of the House."

The European Parliament's chief Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: "British Parliament takes back control. European and British Parliament together will decide on the final agreement. Interests of the citizens will prevail over narrow party politics. A good day for democracy."

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