An­gry Tory rebels re­ject May’s Brexit amend­ment

The Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - Heather Ste­wart Anne Perkins

Theresa May is head­ing for a fresh show­down with Con­ser­va­tive rebels after they re­jected a govern­ment-drafted amend­ment to the EU with­drawal bill.

The for­mer min­is­ter Anna Soubry said she and her col­leagues felt “badly let down” after they be­lieved they had reached an agree­ment with the govern­ment, only to find the text had been re­drafted at the last minute.

The for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral Do­minic Grieve held ne­go­ti­a­tions with the govern­ment over the pre­cise word­ing of the amend­ment, which was aimed at mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for Bri­tain to crash out of the EU with­out MPs be­ing given a mean­ing­ful vote. But he said the fi­nal ver­sion, which was tabled by the govern­ment at the last moment last night, was “un­ac­cept­able”.

Rebel peers now plan to table Grieve’s orig­i­nal text when the bill goes back to the House of Lords on Mon­day, giv­ing MPs a sec­ond chance to de­bate it when it

is bounced back to the Com­mons on Wed­nes­day, in the ar­cane par­lia­men­tary process known as “ping pong”.

More than a dozen Tory rebels be­lieved they had been given a per­sonal as­sur­ance by the prime min­is­ter, in a face-to-face meet­ing on Tues­day, that their con­cerns about the risk of a no-deal Brexit would be ad­dressed.

But in­stead of Grieve’s clause 5C, which would have al­lowed MPs to “di­rect” the govern­ment in the event of no deal, the new amend­ment just prom­ises a de­bate on a mo­tion “in neu­tral terms”.

Grieve said the new draft was “un­ac­cept­able” be­cause this phrase meant it would im­pos­si­ble for MPs to amend the govern­ment’s pro­pos­als and force min­is­ters to change their minds. “It is un­ac­cept­able. At the end of the process some­thing was in­ex­pli­ca­bly changed, which had not been agreed,” he said. “The govern­ment has made the mo­tion un­a­mend­able, con­trary to the usual meth­ods of the House of Com­mons and there­fore it can­not be ac­cepted.”

Brex­iters de­nied that they had de­manded the change, in­sist­ing it was the govern­ment that was de­ter­mined not to al­low MPs to tie min­is­ters’ hands at a cru­cial phase in the process of ex­tri­cat­ing Bri­tain from the EU. Some leavers are keen for Grieve and his col­leagues to be con­fronted – and, they be­lieve, de­feated – to pre­vent the govern­ment us­ing the tricky par­lia­men­tary arith­metic as an ex­cuse for slid­ing to­wards an ever-softer Brexit.

The row is the lat­est chal­lenge for May as she seeks to bal­ance the con­flict­ing de­mands of her war­ring party, in a hung par­lia­ment that makes win­ning every vote chal­leng­ing.

Grieve’s amend­ment rep­re­sented the only de­feat for the govern­ment as the bill went through the Com­mons in De­cem­ber. A cross-party group of peers, led by the for­mer Tory cabi­net min­is­ter Lord Hail­sham, then sought to strengthen it as the leg­is­la­tion went through the Lords.

May only bought off a loom­ing re­bel­lion in the Com­mons on Tues­day by hold­ing a face-to-face meet­ing with MPs in her West­min­ster office in the clos­ing mo­ments of a fraught de­bate.

They be­lieved they had been of­fered talks on a new clause, but May sub­se­quently in­sisted “the govern­ment’s hand in the ne­go­ti­a­tions can­not be tied by par­lia­ment”, adding that she would not coun­te­nance any amend­ment that would al­low par­lia­ment to “over­turn the will of the British peo­ple”.

A spokesman for the De­part­ment for Ex­it­ing the Euro­pean Union in­sisted: “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.” He added that the govern­ment 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.”

Soubry, who re­jected the prime min­is­ter’s as­sur­ances and voted against the govern­ment ear­lier this week, sug­gested the amend­ment had been tabled “with­out con­sul­ta­tion” after the rebels be­lieved they had a deal. She told the BBC: “The ap­palling thing is that no one ac­tu­ally spoke to Do­minic Grieve be­fore they tabled that amend­ment at 5pm. I think that is un­for­giv­able. You don’t be­have like this. I’m very, very dis­ap­pointed.”

An­other rebel, Sarah Wol­las­ton, said she and her al­lies would now need to “amend the ‘un­a­mend­able’”.

The shadow Brexit sec­re­tary, Sir Keir Starmer, said: “The govern­ment’s amend­ment is sim­ply not good enough. Theresa May has gone back on her word and of­fered an amend­ment that takes the mean­ing out of the mean­ing­ful vote. Par­lia­ment can­not – and should not – ac­cept it.”

The is­sue was at the heart of a knifeedge vote on Tues­day, which saw more than a dozen MPs, in­clud­ing Nicky Mor­gan and Ed Vaizey, called into the prime min­is­ter’s office to be given last­minute re­as­sur­ances their con­cerns would be ad­dressed.

Some Con­ser­va­tive MPs are scep­ti­cal about the need for the Grieve amend­ment. Tom Tu­gend­hat, the chair of the for­eign af­fairs com­mit­tee, told Sky News he be­lieved it was un­nec­es­sary, be­cause if MPs voted against the Brexit deal the govern­ment would be likely to fall.

‘The ap­palling thing is that no one spoke to Do­minic Grieve be­fore they tabled that amend­ment’ Anna Soubry Tory rebel

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.