Tory rebels stall Brexit Bill

Theresa May faces bat­tle over flag­ship leg­is­la­tion as Re­main MPS sup­port hos­tile amend­ments

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Gor­don Rayner, James Crisp and Peter Foster

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.

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