Theresa May was consigned to an humiliating Commons defeat tonight as Tory MPs revolted over demands for a ‘meaningful’ vote on the final Brexit deal.
A rebellion of Conservative MPs secured a crunch Commons vote 309 to 305 – handing Mrs May her first ever legislative defeat by just four votes in an historic blow to her already shaky credibility.
Labour MPs bunched the air in jubilation and Remain MPs across the Commons cheered and applauded as the extraordinary vote was announced.
Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve rejected as ‘too late’ a desperate last minute concession made just minutes before the crunch vote at 7pm.
Mr Grieve’s amendment demands ministers pass a full law enshrining the exit deal before the Government is allowed start implementing it.
The amendment puts huge new pressure on the Brexit timetable approaching exit day on March 29, 2019. Rebels hope it will allow Parliament to reject anything they consider a bad deal for Britain in time for further negotiation.
Theresa May was consigned to an humiliating Commons defeat tonight as Tory MPs revolted over demands for a ‘meaningful’ vote on the final Brexit deal
A rebellion of Conservative MPs secured a crunch Commons vote 309 to 305 – handing Mrs May her first ever legislative defeat by just four votes in an historic blow to her already shaky credibility (pictured is the vote being declared tonight)
Labour MPs bunched the air in jubilation and Remain MPs across the Commons cheered and applauded as the extraordinary vote was announced (pictured)
Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve (pictured in the Commons today) tabled the crucial amendment that was backed by MPs in the Commons tonight
As the rebellion built, Justice Minister Dominic Raab offered last ditch assurances that powers in the legislation that trouble Tory rebels will not be used until the exit agreement is written into UK law.
At 6.45pm he returned to the Despatch Box to promise MPs he would turn his assurance into an amendment if MPs back down.
His concession appeared to peal off at least two Tory rebels as Vicky Ford and Paul Masterton backed down.
But after Mr Grieve declared ‘It’s too late, I’m sorry, you cannot treat the House in this fashion’ other rebels inflicted the punishing defeat.
Insisting the rebellion would go ahead this afternoon, Mr Grieve quoted Winston Churchill as warned Mrs May: ‘A good party man…will put his country before his party.’
The debate saw furious blue-on-blue exchanges as Brexiteers Bernard Jenkin and Bill Cash rose to defend the Government.
Debate began at 1pm with Tory grandee Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry leading the charge for the rebels, demanding the Government concede before votes begin at 7pm tonight
Justice minister Dominic Raab tonight (pictured) offered assurances that powers in the bill that trouble Tory rebels will not be used until the exit agreement is written into UK law
Mr Grieve warned the Government he had tried to be helpful but that on the issue of a meaningful vote ‘we have run out of road – and all rational discourse starts to evaporate’.
He said this has led to ‘confrontation’ in which it is ‘suggested the underlying purpose is sabotage, followed by hurling of public abuse’ including by other Tories.
Signalling support for the amendment, Mr Clarke said the key thing around a meaningful vote was its timing, adding: ‘The vote’s got to take place before the British Government has committed itself to the terms of the treaty-like agreement that is entered into with the other members.
‘Any other vote is not meaningful.’
Mr Clarke said it was ‘quite obvious’ that the Government was not going to be ‘remotely near’ a detailed agreement by March 2019.
WHAT IS MAY OFFERING AND WHAT DO THE REBELS WANT?
Theresa May is scrambling to head off a dangerous rebellion by Tory MPs tonight that could consign her to an embarrassing defeat over calls for a ‘meaningful vote’ on the terms of Brexit.
The PM has said both the Commons and Lords will vote on a ‘resolution’ about the exit deal – a simple yes or no vote – before the European Parliament and before exit day on March 29, 2019.
And she said the deal itself will eventually be put into its own piece of legislation.
Crucially, the rebels want to ensure this second step happens before exit day and this is what the amendment seeks to ensure.
Some of them hope legislating before exit day would create space for them to amend the deal or send ministers back to negotiate again.
The Government has so far insisted this will squeeze the timetable to breaking point and risk a smooth and orderly Brexit.
He added: ‘It’s not a question, I may say, to my desperately paranoid eurosceptic friends, that somehow I am trying in some surreptitious Remainer way to put a spoke in the wheels of the vast progress of the United Kingdom towards the destination to which we are going.
‘But they don’t know what Leave means, because nobody discussed what Leave meant when we were having the referendum.’
Another rebel, Antoinette Sandbach, expressed fears that a vote on a Brexit deal motion outlined by the Government could be ‘meaningless’.
In an attempt to sooth rebel concerns, Mr Raab vowed powers they want to modify – that allow ministers to bring in the exit agreement using secondary legislation – would not be used until Parliament has voted on the deal as a whole.
Offering a political assurance – rather than a change to the bill – Mr Raab said: ‘None of the Statutory Instruments will come into effect until Parliament has voted on the final deal.’
He urged the rebels to drop their amendment, adding: ‘If we waited for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill not just to be introduced after the withdrawal agreement has been signed, but fully enacted, waiting for the full passage of that to happen we would not have the time deal with the volume of technical legislation that we need to put through under secondary legislation.
‘There is no getting around the timing issue, we have got the long tail of technical regulatory secondary legislation we need to get through if we want to provide legal certainty that will make a smooth Brexit.’
The debate saw furious blue-on-blue exchanges as Brexiteers Bernard Jenkin (left) and Bill Cash (right) rose to defend the Government
If the Government loses in the Commons tonight, it would be Mrs May’s first loss on legislation and a damaging blow to her ailing authority. Pictured are Tory MPs – including many of the likely rebels – in the Commons this afternoon
If the Government loses, it would be Theresa May’s (pictured today leaving No 10) first defeat on legislation and a damaging blow to her ailing authority
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mrs May said: ‘We will put the final withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before it comes into force.’
She said Westminster would be given a vote ahead of the European Parliament and ‘well before’ the date of Brexit in March 2019.
WHIP FACES BULLYING ROW OVER CLAIM MP WAS REDUCED TO TEARS
Tory chief whip Julian Smith (pictured outside No 10 last month) has reportedly told backbenchers they could be sued
Ministers have been hit by a bullying row after a Tory whip allegedly reduced a female MP to tears as they scrambled to try to head off a Brexit rebellion tonight.
A male whip is said to have used ‘bully boy tactics’ to try to cajole the MP into not defying the Government on a crunch Brexit vote.
The woman is said to have started crying and trembling after receiving the harsh dressing down – a claim No10 have said is ‘categorically not true’.
But another report says the chief whip Julian Smith has threatened to sue rebels if they make defamatory allegations about the tactics used to keep them in line.
The claims have surfaced as tensions soar ahead of an expected Tory rebellion tonight on the flagship Brexit Bill demanding MPs are given a meaningful vote on the deal.
It would be Theresa May’s first proper defeat on a piece of legislation and a major blow for the PM ahead of a major EU summit in Brussels tomorrow.
Anna Soubry, a leading Tory rebel, accused a Tory whip of overstepping the mark and resorting to bullying to strong-arm MPs into toeing the line.
‘To be clear, the final deal will be agreed before we leave and Honourable and Right Honourable Members will get a vote on it,’ Mrs May told the Commons.
Answering later questions, Mrs May said the Grieve amendment could risk a ‘smooth and orderly Brexit’ by squeezing the timetable too far.
Former constitution minister John Penrose offered support to Mrs May ahead of the vote.
He said: ‘The Government has already promised not only a full-scale vote on the EU deal as soon as it’s been struck, but up to two more ‘ratification votes’ plus an entire Act of Parliament before it becomes law.
‘That’s as much, or more, than even the most fervent democrat could reasonably ask.
‘The Prime Minister negotiated a far better ”stage 1” deal last week than the doom-mongers were predicting.
‘Let’s not repay her by sending her off to Brussels with an unnecessary and unfair amendment that will only make her job harder.’
In an attempt to head off defeat, Brexit Secretary David Davis has written to MPs insisting there will be a vote in the Commons on the term of the exit arrangements but that the amendment goes too far.
The Brexit Department today repeated a promise there would be a Commons vote on the exit deal before it is implemented.
The Government has also promised to enshrine a withdrawal treaty in law but said this might not happen before exit day.
But Mr Grieve told Sky News: ‘I have no desire to defeat my government at all, I am not a rebel, I think I have only rebelled once over a local issue in the 21 years I have been in parliament.
‘I don’t want to do that but the Government needs to listen to what has been said to them and at the moment unfortunately my impression of the last few days when I have been talking to the Government is it seems to be a bit of a dialogue of the deaf.
‘They have sort of turned this into a battle of wills and this is a completely pointless exercise.
‘They need to listen to the point that is being made and they need to respond to it.’
Brexit Secretary David Davis (pictured driving out of Parliament tonight) has sent a letter to MPs assuring them there will be a Commons vote on the terms of the divorce deal with the EU before it is implemented
PUBLIC BACK GIVING MPS THE FINAL SAY
The public back calls for Parliament to have the final say on a Brexit deal, a poll suggests today.
An ICM poll commmissioned by campaign group Avaaz said 52 per cent of people think MPs should be in charge.
The question of whether Parliament should make the final decision on the terms of exit or whether it should be left to the Prime Minister is among the most contested Brexit issues.
Alex Evans, Campaign Director at Avaaz, said: ‘A clear majority of the British people want MPs to vote on the terms of Brexit.
‘The government hasn’t given a single good reason that parliament shouldn’t have a final say.
‘The will of the people is clear, and the government should stop running scared of democracy and allow MPs to vote.’
Junior Brexit minister Steve Baker told peers this morning: ‘There can only be a vote on the withdrawal agreement.’
He said the vote on whether to follow the instruction of the referendum and leave the EU has already happened when MPs backed invoking Article 50.
And he tweeted: ‘Today’s amendment 7 to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is misplaced, however well-intentioned.’
In a letter to MPs, Brexit Secretary Davis specifically referred to Mr Grieve’s attempt to rewrite the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and said he was responding to concerns ‘by making clear that there will be a number of votes for Parliament on the final deal we strike with the EU’.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier wants the withdrawal deal finalised by October 2018 and the Government has committed to hold a vote in Parliament as soon as possible after the negotiations have concluded.
Mr Davis said the deal would have to go through the normal treaty ratification process and there would then be primary legislation on the Brexit deal.
Brexit Minister Steve Baker (pictured in the Lords today) said a rebel plan to write a ‘meaningful vote’ on the terms of leaving the EU was ‘misplaced’
The Brexit Secretary said: ‘If Parliament supports the resolution to proceed with the withdrawal agreement and the terms for our future relationship, the Government will bring forward a Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill to give the withdrawal agreement domestic legal effect.
‘The Bill will implement the terms of the withdrawal agreement in UK law as well as providing a further opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny.
‘This legislation will be introduced before the UK exits the EU and the substantive provisions will only take effect from the moment of exit.’
The Government swerved possible defeat last night with concessions on so-called Henry VIII powers in the legislation.
And another very tight vote is expected next Wednesday as ministers stand behind controversial plans to write the Exit Date into the withdrawal legislation.
Yesterday, Conservative former leader Iain Duncan Smith accused Mr Grieve and his supporters of ‘grandstanding’ and trying to tie the Government’s hands in the Brexit talks.
‘I think this is looking for ways to derail the bill,’ he told The World At One.
‘There comes a moment when really grandstanding has to stop. Tying the Government’s hands in the way that he would wish to tie them so early on is quite wrong.’