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Government bids to fend off Brexit rebellion with Davis statement

The Brexit Secretary’s move won the support of one leading rebel, but was dismissed as ‘fudge’ by Nicola Sturgeon.

The Government may have seen off a Commons rebellion over its flagship Brexit legislation with a last-minute concession to pro-EU backbenchers.

Brexit Secretary David Davis wrote to MPs to inform them that an official ministerial statement will be issued on Thursday making clear it is ultimately for Speaker John Bercow to decide whether they get a “meaningful vote” on a no-deal withdrawal from the EU.

Prominent pro-EU Tory Nicky Morgan declared that she was ready to back the Government on this basis, raising the prospect that a rebellion thought likely to push the issue to a knife-edge may be on the point of crumbling.

Potential Tory rebels were bristling at Theresa May’s plan to offer only a symbolic vote on an unamendable “neutral motion” which would simply note that no agreement has been reached with Brussels. They want a “meaningful vote” allowing them to approve or reject the Government’s proposed next steps.

The statement, which circulated in Westminster as debate began on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, made clear that Commons standing orders give the Speaker the final say on whether a motion is amendable or not.

This may be enough to persuade some rebels that their concerns have been addressed, though it is thought likely that ministers will be confident of being able to draft a motion which will be judged neutral by Mr Bercow if the need arises.

Ms Morgan tweeted: “On this basis Parliament’s vote is meaningful – and I will support (the) Government amendment”.

And leading Tory Remainer Dominic Grieve, who tabled the initial motion demanding a “meaningful vote”, told MPs in the Commons chamber that he would back the Government.

Mr Grieve said that the Brexit Secretary’s statement amounted to an “obvious acknowledgement of the sovereignty of this place over the executive in black and white language”.

He was greeted with jeers of “shame” from the opposition benches as he said: “I am prepared to accept the Government’s difficulty and support it”.

Prominent anti-Brexit rebel Anna Soubry appeared unconvinced, saying Mr Davis was “dancing on the head of a pin” and tweeting the hashtag #worldgonemad.

Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon dismissed the compromise as a “fudge”, while Labour whips said it was “meaningless”.

Meanwhile, Labour accused the Conservatives of refusing to co-operate with a long-standing convention permitting sick MPs to vote in Wednesday’s division.

Under the convention, MPs who are too ill to make their way through the voting lobbies can be “nodded through” from an ambulance or car parked in the parliamentary courtyard.

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Brexit Secretary David Davis addressed MPs on the EU Withdrawal Bill (parliamentlive.tv)

At least one Labour MP and possibly more were understood to be planning to come from hospital to be nodded through for Wednesday’s crucial vote on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which could be decided by the narrowest of margins.

A senior Downing Street source said he was not aware of Conservatives refusing to co-operate, but a Labour spokesman confirmed the party’s whips had been told “nodding through” would not be available, denouncing the move as “obviously unacceptable”.

Tory rebels believe they can inflict defeat on the Government as the flagship legislation returns to the Commons after the Lords again backed giving MPs a “meaningful” say on the final deal.

The Prime Minister staved off a Tory rebellion on the move last week but faces a bruising battle in the latest round of voting amid claims she failed to implement a compromise that opponents believed they were promised.

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Phillip Lee said rebels may still be strong enough to defeat the Prime Minister (PA)

Phillip Lee, who resigned as a government minister in order to back a strengthened role for Parliament, acknowledged there had been a concerted effort to win over would-be rebels, including the “dark arts” of persuasion in the corridors of power.

But he claimed the rebels may have the strength to defeat the Prime Minister – who he said he still counts as a friend – unless an 11th-hour concession is agreed.

Dr Lee told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “We were always going to get the normal dark arts of Westminster taking place, fully expected, but my understanding is that the position taken by a number of colleagues is solid, which is why the Government is still in negotiations.”

Asked if there were enough rebels to defeat the Government, he said: “Potentially, yes. But… this for me personally is a position of integrity, that I think Parliament deserves to have a proper role in this process, a truly meaningful vote.”

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