Tory rebels stall Brexit Bill
Theresa May faces battle over flagship legislation as Remain MPS support hostile amendments
THERESA MAY’S plans for Brexit were in disarray last night after it emerged her flagship Brexit Bill has been put on hold because of a potentially disastrous Tory rebellion.
The EU Withdrawal Bill had been scheduled for scrutiny by MPS next week, but has now been taken out of the parliamentary calendar because the Government faces defeat on more than a dozen hostile amendments.
It came on the day that Michel Barnier, the EU’S chief Brexit negotiator, admitted that “no deal” was now a real possibility after talks in Brussels reached deadlock.
There were also calls from a former Conservative chancellor for Mrs May to sack Philip Hammond for attempting to “sabotage” Mrs May’s Brexit plans.
The developments added to a growing sense in Westminster that Brexit is grinding to a halt because of opposition in Brussels and in Parliament to the Government’s strategy.
A total of 300 amendments and 54 new clauses have been tabled to the EU Withdrawal Bill – which will take EU laws into domestic legislation to provide continuity when the UK leaves the EU in 2019 – of which 13 have enough support from Tory MPS to defeat the Government.
If Mrs May was defeated on the Bill it would seriously reduce her already waning authority, meaning whips must strike deals with the Tory rebels to ensure they toe the party line.
Rebels are unhappy over the Government’s desire to secure so-called “Henry VIII powers”, which give ministers the right to make legislative changes without full parliamentary scrutiny.
It is the latest evidence of the battle royal that Mrs May faces in the coming months to keep Brexit on track. She also faces discord in Cabinet, with Lord Lawson urging Mrs May to remove Philip Hammond from her top team.
The former Chancellor said Mr Hammond’s actions over the past few weeks had been “unhelpful” and irresponsible. Mr Hammond prompted fury among his Cabinet colleagues on Wednesday by saying that money should only be spent on preparations for a “no deal” outcome “at the very last moment”. His comments appeared to undermine Mrs May’s attempts the previous day to put pressure on the European Union by talking up the chances of no deal.
He was rebuked just hours later when Mrs May took a friendly question from her pro-brexit colleague Iain Duncan Smith in the Commons, allowing her to reassure MPS that money will be spent when needed.
Ministers are increasingly convinced that Mrs May will soon reshuffle her Cabinet to restore her authority.
The prospect of Brexit talks collapsing without a deal being reached moved a step closer yesterday as Michel Barnier, the EU’S chief Brexit negotiator, made his most explicit admission to date that “no deal” was a real possibility. Mr Barnier told a press conference at the European Commission’s head
quarters: “No deal would be a very bad deal. To be clear, on our side we will be ready to face any eventualities and all the eventualities.”
Mr Barnier said talks were deadlocked after five rounds of negotiations, with huge divisions between the two camps remaining, especially over the so-called Brexit divorce bill.
He confirmed he would not recommend to EU leaders that they should allow him to begin trade talks with Britain when they gather at a Brussels summit next week. It also emerged yesterday that a Commons debate on the EU withdrawal bill, scheduled for next week, has been postponed with no new date yet fixed. It is understood that the delay has been caused by extra administrative work created by the sheer number of amendments tabled by MPS, but the delay will add to the sense of Brexit being put on hold.
Asked whether Mr Hammond should remain as Chancellor, Lord Lawson told the BBC: “I fear not. I fear that he is unhelpful. He may not intend it but in practice what he is doing is very close to sabotage.” He added: “The really important thing now is that we prepare for the no deal outcome.”
Downing Street insisted Mrs May retained full confidence in her Chancellor. Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, two leading Brexiteers, played down suggestions of a split in the Cabinet over preparations to leave.
At the end of the latest round of Brexit talks, Mr Barnier described the impasse as “disturbing” and said there was “no question” of the EU making concessions on the financial settlement, Ireland and citizens’ rights.
David Davis, the Brexit secretary, called on EU leaders, who meet in Brussels on Oct 19-20, to grant Mr Barnier the flexibility to begin talks on Britain’s future relationship with the EU. No 10 echoed the calls.
Mr Barnier hinted that he would ask EU governments, including Germany, to expand his mandate. While that is unlikely to include full trade negotiations, it could allow “scoping” of the future relationship and the transition deal.