Ministers resolute on Brexit stance as concessions move sees off vote rebellion
The Department for Exiting the European Union said the government had ‘agreed to look for a compromise’ after a rocky day in the Commons.
The Government has not and will not agree to MPs binding its hands in the Brexit negotiations, officials have insisted after the Prime Minister saw off a threatened rebellion with the promise of concessions.
Theresa May met pro-EU Tories in her private room in the Commons moments before a crucial vote to hear their demands for a truly meaningful vote on the final exit deal.
Senior Remainer Dominic Grieve said Mrs May promised to table amendments in the House of Lords which will address their concerns.
Moments later, MPs voted by 324 to 298 to reject a House of Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which would have given Parliament the power to tell the PM to go back and renegotiate the Brexit deal she secures from Brussels.
Mr Grieve withdrew his own amendment, which would have given MPs powers to dictate what the Government should do if no acceptable agreement is reached by February 2019.
The former attorney general told Press Association: “The Prime Minister agreed that the amendments we had tabled, and the issue that we had raised about Parliament’s role in the event of no deal was an important one, and undertook to work with us to put together amendments to present in the Lords which would address those concerns.”
The parts of his amendment which he expects to be taken forward by ministers provide a mechanism by which Parliament has to be consulted by the end of November in the event of no deal or if a proposed agreement is rejected, he said.
In a statement later, the Department for Exiting the European Union said the government had “agreed to look for a compromise”.
“On the meaningful vote we have agreed to look for a compromise when this goes back to the Lords,” a spokesman said.
“The Brexit Secretary has set out three tests that any new amendment has to meet – not undermining the negotiations, not changing the constitutional role of Parliament and Government in negotiating international treaties, and respecting the referendum result.
“We have not, and will not, agree to the House of Commons binding the Government’s hands in the negotiations.”
Mrs May agreed to find a compromise in a dramatic climbdown from the original plan to offer MPs a “take it or leave it” vote to accept the withdrawal agreement or leave the EU without a deal.
The Prime Minister is now expected to get through the latest round of crunch Brexit votes unscathed, with a potentially explosive clash over the customs union on Wednesday already defused by a compromise amendment.
She won a succession of votes on Tuesday overturning Lords amendments, including one which would have removed the date of Brexit on March 29 2019 from the text of the Bill.
However, she faces a gruelling bout of “parliamentary ping-pong” with the Lords as the Bill bounces back and forth between the two Houses over the coming weeks.
For avoidance of any doubt the promised further amendment in the Lords must closely reflect Dominic Grieve’s amendment (or Lords likely to bring that forward themselves & for that to be passed)— Sarah Wollaston MP (@sarahwollaston) June 12, 2018
The concession on a meaningful vote came after intensive horse-trading on the floor of the House of Commons, with chief whip Julian Smith shuttling between Tory backbenchers during debate on Lords amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill.
Potential rebels fell into line after Solicitor General Robert Buckland said ministers were ready to “engage positively” with their concerns before the Bill returns to the Upper House next Monday.
Remainer Stephen Hammond said a group of potential rebels – believed to number 15 to 20 – received assurances from the PM moments before the key vote.
“I absolutely trust what the Prime Minister says to us,” he told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.
Leading pro-EU Conservative Sarah Wollaston announced she would vote with the Government so long as a promised further amendment in the Lords “closely reflects” the Grieve proposals.
Earlier, Mrs May was hit by the resignation of justice minister Phillip Lee, who quit the Government live on stage during a speech in London in order to be able to back Mr Grieve’s amendment.
The Bracknell MP, who called for a second referendum on whatever deal Mrs May secures from the EU, later told the Commons there was growing evidence that the Government’s Brexit policy is “detrimental to the people we were elected to serve”.
“If, in the future, I am to look my children in the eye and honestly say that I did my best for them I cannot, in all good conscience, support how our country’s current exit from the EU looks set to be delivered,” he said.
In the event, Dr Lee abstained on the crucial vote, saying he was “delighted” the Government had agreed to introduce an amendment giving Parliament “the voice I always wanted it to have in the Brexit process”.
Ahead of the crucial votes, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned MPs that defeat would undermine the UK’s negotiating stance in Brussels.
The cumulative effect of 14 Lords amendments which the Government is seeking to overturn could be to “make it impossible to deliver the smooth and orderly exit we want”, he warned.
Following the vote, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: “Facing the prospect of a humiliating defeat, Theresa May has been forced to enter negotiations with her backbenchers and offer a so-called concession.
“We will wait and see the details of this concession and will hold ministers to account to ensure it lives up to the promises they have made to Parliament.”
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: “As has become a tradition in Brexit negotiations, the Tories have been forced to cobble together a compromise.
“Time will tell as to whether this is just another attempt to buy off the rebels or a real attempt at consensus. But if we face the prospect of a ‘meaningless process’ rather than a ‘meaningful vote’, Parliament will be enraged.”
Ukip leader Gerard Batten said: “The only ‘meaningful vote’ was the verdict of the people in referendum of June 23 2016.”