Minister quits over 'irresponsible' Brexit plan in blow to Theresa May

Howard TerryJun 14, 2018

The government was forced into a major compromise on Tuesday when it had to agree to give parliament a greater role in Brexit negotiations to avert a defeat at the hands of rebels from her own party who want to keep close European Union ties after Britain leaves the bloc in March next year.

Following its defeat, the government's own amendment on the so-called meaningful vote will go forward to the House of Lords for debate next week - but with some changes.

A statement by the Department for Exiting the European Union, led by Brexit Secretary David Davis, insisted that "we have not, and will not, agree to the House of Commons binding the Government's hands in the negotiations".

That said, while the government may have won the battle on customs, the war is still to come. One said privately on Thursday that they didn't want to risk toppling May at a time when her position is already perilous.

The government was braced for a tight battle after junior justice minister Phillip Lee, a personal friend of May's, resigned on Tuesday morning in order to back the veto amendment. The Lords have proposed amendments to the Bill and now it's up to the Commons to decide which, if any, changes they'll accept. "But if we face the prospect of a "meaningless process" rather than a "meaningful vote", Parliament will be enraged". The government has also put down some amendments aimed at uniting the party around a compromise.

Brexit secretary David Davis urged lawmakers to "respect the result of the referendum" that approved the withdrawal. The government wants the Commons to reject 14 out of 15 amendments introduced by the Lords which are meant to keep Britain close to the European Union after Brexit.

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. Many lawmakers said it seemed likely that Britain would have to remain in a customs union with the EU, even though the government insists it will leave.

POLITICS Brexit

During the debate, a number of MPs pointed to the contradiction of fighting to gain back control of parliamentary sovereignty, whilst denying the principle that MPs are the final arbiters of the popular vote.

A Department for Exiting the European Union 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 worldwide treaties, and respecting the referendum result".

But questions were being raised over concessions offered by the PM on Tuesday to see off a revolt over the role of MPs in agreeing the final divorce settlement.

Tory MPs are to discuss with ministers what will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit - amid calls for Theresa May to honour "assurances" to them.

So the rebels might sit tight until July, when they will have another opportunity to force May to change direction and keep closer ties to the bloc. After a bumpy week of Brexit spats within her administration and with the EU, May wants to fend off another setback in a long-awaited showdown with restive lawmakers.

But pro-EU Conservative lawmaker Dominic Grieve said that with the government's move "I am quite satisfied that we are going to get a meaningful vote on both "deal" and "no deal" scenarios.

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