Remainer Tory MPs left angry by ‘sneaky’ change to Brexit bill
THERESA May was facing a renewed revolt over Brexit last night after pro-Brussels Tory rebels rejected her offer of a compromise.
Ministers yesterday tabled an amendment to the Prime Minister’s Brexit legislation promising votes in the Commons and Lords if the Government fails to agree a draft departure deal with the EU by January 21 next year.
But Tories campaigning for close links with Brussels were furious the proposed change to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill fell short of their demand for a binding parliamentary vote that could force the Government back to the negotiating table if the talks flounder.
One angry Remainer MP accused ministers of “sneaky” behaviour after days of wrangling over the Bill.
And former attorney general Dominic Grieve, one of the ringleaders of the rebellion, branded the amendment “unacceptable”.
Threatening a fresh revolt against the Government, he said: “The matter is not resolved and will have to be debated again next week.”
But Brexit-backing MPs were said to be “relieved” by details of the amendment last night.
They insisted Remainers’ attempts to give Parliament the power to block a “no-deal” departure from the EU had been dashed.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: “I’m relieved the Government’s attempt to appease potential rebels will not affect the integrity of the Withdrawal Bill. This will come as a relief to the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU and who believe in democracy.”
An extraordinary row erupted after the amendment to the Bill was tabled minutes before the 5pm deadline.
Three hours earlier, pro-Brussels Tories had been claiming victory after an intense series of negotiations about the amendment.
They had threatened to revolt earlier in the week but abandoned that idea after the Prime Minister offered a compromise in a private meeting. The amendment says that the Government will commit to make a ministerial statement if Brexit negotiations fail to reach an “agreement in principle” with Brussels.
It also promises the Government will move “a motion in neutral terms, to the effect that the House of Commons has considered the matter of the statement”.
A similar motion in the House of Lords was also promised.
The proposals mean MPs and peers will get a chance to express their opinion – but not alter the course of Government policy.
Minutes after the amendment was tabled, Mr Grieve said: “It is unacceptable. At the end of the process, something was inexplicably changed which had not been agreed.
“The Government has made the motion unamendable, contrary to the usual methods of the House of Commons, and therefore it cannot be accepted.”
Fellow rebel Anna Soubry accused the Government of “betrayal”.
The former business minister said: “This amendment has changed without Dominic Grieve or anyone else being consulted. It is now completely meaningless.
“That is a very serious betrayal of one of the most senior politicians in Parliament. I find it quite astonishing. I thought we were agreed.”
Earlier yesterday, Ms Soubry had described Mr Grieve as “a hero” for brokering the expected compromise
with the Government. One Whitehall source said: “They had done an aggressive job of briefing what they thought they had achieved in advance of the amendment’s publication.”
Remain-backing peers are expected to rally behind a rival amendment in the House of Lords on Monday.
And rebel MPs are likely to defy orders from Tory whips to overturn that decision when the Bill bounces back to the Commons, leaving the two houses in constitutional “ping pong”.
Tory backbencher and Remainer Sarah Wollaston said: “So, just to be clear, we are now going to have to amend the ‘unamendable’ after the agreed amendable amendment acquired a sneaky sting in the tail. What a time to be alive.”
A spokesman for the Brexit-backing pressure group Change Britain said last night: “Britain already had its ‘meaningful vote’ on June 23, 2016. MPs should stop trying to reverse a result they don’t like.”
A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the EU said: “Our new amendment respects the tests set out by the Prime Minister and the Brexit Secretary.
“We have listened to those across the House who called for the ability to express their views in the unlikely event that our preferred scenario did not come to pass.
“The amendment ensures that in all circumstances, Parliament can hold Government to account while also allowing Government to deliver on the will of the British people as expressed in the referendum.
“But this remains hypothetical and the Government is confident we will agree a good deal with the EU which Parliament will support.”
Facing revolt...Prime Minister Theresa May leaving Downing Street this week