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May’s Brexit concession only restated existing rules, says Rees-Mogg

Tory Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg played down the significance of the deal struck by the Government to win over pro-EU rebels.

Prominent Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg has insisted the concession promised by Theresa May to head off a revolt by pro-EU Tories did no more than restate existing parliamentary rules.

He said it was a “clarification” rather than a concession and would not allow pro-EU MPs to derail the process of Brexit.

The EU Withdrawal Bill completed its passage through Parliament on Wednesday evening when it was finally passed by the House of Lords without a vote.

Earlier the Commons had rejected an amendment which would have given MPs the power to block a “no deal” Brexit by 319 votes to 303.

The Prime Minister welcomed the passage of the bill – which transfers EU regulations on to the UK statute book – as “a crucial step in delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit”.

There were dramatic scenes at Westminster on Wednesday as MPs were told shortly before the key vote of the final concession to pro-EU rebels.

Under the deal, 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.

The concession was accepted by leading pro-EU Tory Dominic Grieve, who said it was an “obvious acknowledgement” of the sovereignty of the Commons over the executive “in black and white language”.

But Mr Rees-Mogg, chairman of the influential pro-Brexit European Research Group of Tories, played down its significance, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was a “clarification” not a concession and “written ministerial statements are not the law”.

Despite the concession, six Tory rebels voted for the amendment, while on the Labour side four pro-Brexit MPs defied their whips to vote with the Government against it.

The Lords amendment to the bill had required MPs to be given the opportunity to approve or reject the Government’s plans for the next steps in the case that no agreement can be reached with Brussels by Brexit Day in March next year.

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(PA)

Pro-EU Tories threatened to rebel when the Government offered its alternative of an unamendable “neutral motion” simply allowing MPs to take note of the situation.

However the statement to be issued on Thursday by Brexit Secretary David Davis will state explicitly that the parliamentary rule-book gives the Speaker the power to determine whether a motion is amendable or not.

It also notes the parliamentary convention that time is made available to debate motions tabled by MPs on matters of concern.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: “The Speaker will be bound by precedent and standing orders, the Speaker will not make an arbitrary decision.

“If the motion is not in neutral terms it doesn’t meet the requirement of the Act of Parliament.”

He added: “It has always been the case that Parliament can have any motion it wants, the question is does it have any legal force?

“A motion under an Act may have legal force, a routine motion in expression of opinion by the House of Commons does not have legal force.

“So if it is an amendable, non-neutral motion, it is an expression of opinion by the House of Commons, it does not have legal force under the Act and that is very important.

“The written ministerial statement is merely an expression of the standard parliamentary proceedings to make it clear that the Act wasn’t trying to overturn those.”

Downing Street left no doubt ministers were confident of drafting a motion which Mr Bercow will deem to be unamendable.

Mrs May’s official spokesman told reporters: “We will ensure that under standing orders the motion we bring forward is neutral.”

Downing Street’s determination to force their motion through was indicated when Tory whips made clear they would not abide by a parliamentary convention allowing votes to be “nodded through” from ambulances and cars in the courtyard outside if MPs are too ill to physically pass through the voting lobbies.

Bradford West’s Naz Shah, who has been ill, was pushed in to vote in a wheelchair with a sick bucket on her lap, in scenes which fellow Labour MP Catherine McKinnell said showed an “utter lack of humanity and compassion” from the Government.

Meanwhile, pregnant Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson and Labour MP Laura Pidcock turned out to oppose the PM’s plans despite being close to their due dates.

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