UK Government wins crucial battle over “meaningful vote” Brexit amendment after rebel MPs back down
Theresa May’s fragile minority Government has won a key vote in the continuing row over who gets the final say over Brexit.
The UK Government won the crunch poll in the House of Commons on Wednesday by just 16 votes – 319 votes to 303 – after rebel anti-Brexit Conservative MPs backed down.
Prior to the vote, in a concession to rebel MPs, Brexit Secretary David Davis had promised that, in the event the UK fails to secure a deal with the EU next year, John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, would decide whether MPs can amend a motion on what to do next.
Rebel MPs want Brexit veto
Previously, on Monday, May’s Conservative Government lost a major vote in the House of Lords after peers voted 354 to 235 for an amendment to Brexit legislation that would give MPs a veto if there is no agreement hammered out with the EU by February next year.
Lord Hailsham tabled the amendment in the Lords after a group of rebel anti-Brexit Conservative MPs, led by Dominic Grieve, said MPs should have the last say on whether Brexit goes ahead in the event that no UK/EU deal is reached or the deal is rejected by the House of Commons.
May’s Government is opposed to the amendment as it believes it gives MPs too much power and weakens the UK’s bargaining position with the EU. The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.
‘Slap in the face’ for the rebels
Last week, May met with the anti-Brexit MPs, including Grieve, Anna Soubry and former Chancellor Ken Clarke to try to put off a Commons revolt over the issue. The rebels claimed that the Government had promised them that if they failed to get an EU withdrawal deal agreed by next February MPs would be given a veto over Brexit.
However, when the agreement was published on Thursday no explicit MP veto was outlined in it. Grieve accused the Government of changing the details at the last minute, calling it a “slap in the face”.
Rebel Grieve concedes
Following Wednesday’s vote, the leader of the rebels, Grieve, conceded, saying that Davis’ statement was an “obvious acknowledgement of the sovereignty of this place over the executive in black and white language” and, to jeers of “shame” from the Labour benches, that he was “prepared to accept the Government’s difficulty and support it”.
While he said that he believed Brexit is a “historic mistake”, Grieve said that he respected the vote of the British electorate to leave the EU and that the issue was about giving “assurances to the House and many, many people in the country who are worried about this process and how it will end”.
Meanwhile, former Minister for Women and Equality Nicky Morgan, another potential rebel, declared it a “meaningful vote”.
Pro-Europe rebel Conservative MP Soubry, was unconvinced by the Brexit secretary’s assurances, however, saying that Davis was “dancing on the head of a pin”.
Sick and pregnant MPs ‘wheeled in’
Such was the minority Government’s whipping operation that sick and heavily pregnant Conservative MPs were literally wheeled into Parliament for the vote – pregnant Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson is already past her due date, while Naz Shah, who is ill, was taken in in a wheelchair and reportedly sat in the Commons with a sick bucket on her lap.
Solicitor General Robert Buckland had earlier called on MPs for a show of “national unity” ahead of a major EU summit next week.
“[It is] important to send a clear message not just to the world of Westminster but to Brussels that this is a prime minister…that can get vital legislation through about Brexit,” he said.
David Davis: ‘UK must not lose its nerve’
Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary, David Davis told MPs that they needed to show a united front. “There are plenty of voices on the European side of the negotiation that seek to punish us, let’s be very clear, and to do us harm; who wish to present us an unambiguously bad deal, some to dissuade others from following us and others who would do so with the intention of reversing the referendum, of making us lose our nerve and rejoin the European Union,” he said.
“If it undermines the UK’s ability to walk away, this amendment makes this outcome more likely.
This is the paradox [for the rebels] – in trying to head off no deal, you actually make no deal more likely.”