May avoids Brexit vote de­feat

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD - Alice Ritchie

BRI­TISH Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May avoided a ma­jor blow to her Brexit strat­egy on Tues­day af­ter law­mak­ers re­jected a plan that would have given par­lia­ment a veto on the fi­nal deal ne­go­ti­ated with Brussels.

The House of Com­mons voted 324 to 298 to de­feat an amend­ment to the EU (With­drawal) Bill, which would have re­moved her gov­ern­ment’s power to de­cide to leave the bloc with­out any agree­ment.

But in un­usual scenes, min­is­ters were forced to of­fer a last­minute com­pro­mise to proEuro­pean MPs, ne­go­ti­ated in part in hud­dles in the cham­ber as the de­bate raged.

May had feared a re­bel­lion by mem­bers of her Con­ser­va­tive Party over the mo­tion, one of 15 sub­mit­ted by the un­elected up­per House of Lords be­ing con­sid­ered by MPs over the course of two days.

The pro-Euro­pean cause was boosted when ju­nior jus­tice min­is­ter Phillip Lee, a friend of May’s, re­signed shortly be­fore the de­bate in or­der to back the veto amend­ment.

In the end Lee ab­stained, say­ing he trusted the pre­mier to give par­lia­ment a “voice” in a com­pro­mise mo­tion due to be pre­sented when the bill re­turns to the Lords on Mon­day.

May met with over a dozen Tory would-be rebels shortly be­fore the vote to re­as­sure them, al­though ex­actly what she promised is in dis­pute.

A state­ment from the Brexit Min­istry said the gov­ern­ment had agreed to “look for a com­pro­mise”. But it made clear that “we have not, and will not, agree to the House of Com­mons bind­ing the gov­ern­ment’s hands”.

Talks with Brussels have stalled over the fraught is­sue of the Ir­ish border, but both sides are hop­ing to agree to a deal by Oc­to­ber in time for the Brexit date of March 29, 2019.

‘Im­mense cri­sis’

The EU (With­drawal) Bill would for­mally end Bri­tain’s mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Union and trans­fer more than 40 years of Euro­pean law onto the Bri­tish statute books.

May is seek­ing to over­turn 14 of 15 Lords amend­ments, but has a fight on her hands due to her frag­ile ma­jor­ity in the 650seat Com­mons.

She had al­ready agreed to give MPs a vote on the fi­nal Brexit deal, but re­ject­ing it could see Bri­tain crash out of the EU with no agree­ment.

The Lords amend­ment would have given par­lia­ment the power to de­cide what hap­pened next, with the pos­si­bil­ity of re­open­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions or stay­ing in the bloc.

Fol­low­ing its de­feat, the gov­ern­ment’s own ver­sion of the amend­ment will now go for­ward. So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral Robert Buck­land promised to dis­cuss in­cor­po­rat­ing con­cerns raised by former At­tor­ney Gen­eral and rebel Do­minic Grieve.

Grieve pro­posed the gov­ern­ment be forced to seek par­lia­men­tary ap­proval for its strat­egy if it has not agreed to a Brexit deal by the end of Novem­ber.

“If we don’t achieve a deal at all, the fact is we are go­ing to be fac­ing an im­mense cri­sis,” he told MPs. “The ques­tion is how do we take some sen­si­ble steps to an­tic­i­pate that hap­pen­ing and try to make sure that there is a co­her­ent process for deal­ing with it.”

May’s ap­proach to rebel MPs on Tues­day re­flects her wider han­dling of the gov­ern­ment, which is deeply di­vided on Brexit and only held to­gether through care­ful com­pro­mises. But with crunch time ap­proach­ing, ten­sions are ris­ing, and dur­ing Tues­day’s de­bate an­gry euroscep­tics ac­cused their ri­vals of try­ing to un­der­mine the 2016 Brexit ref­er­en­dum.

“The de­ci­sion was taken by the peo­ple, we gave them that de­ci­sion and we have to stand by it,” said Con­ser­va­tive MP Bill Cash.

His pro-Euro­pean col­league Anna Soubry hit back at those seek­ing to “take us over the cliff of hard Brexit”.

She has pre­vi­ously spo­ken of the threats she faced for chal­leng­ing the gov­ern­ment, and re­vealed on Tues­day that one col­league was too scared this week to vote as they wanted.

In other votes on Tues­day, the gov­ern­ment suc­cess­fully over­turned an amend­ment seek­ing to re­move the date of Brexit from the face of the bill.

Fur­ther clashes were ex­pected on Wed­nes­day over how closely Bri­tain will stay aligned with the EU’s econ­omy af­ter leav­ing.

DANIEL LEAL-OLI­VAS/AFP

Pro-EU demon­stra­tors wave Eure­o­pean Union and Union flags dur­ing a protest against Brexit, out­side of the Houses of Par­lia­ment in cen­tral Lon­don on June 11.

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