British government loses key vote after Tory rebellion
The government of British Prime Minster Theresa May has suffered a fresh blow as lawmakers voted to force changes in London’s Brexit plans, giving Parliament a legal guarantee of a vote on the final Brexit deal struck with Brussels.
May was narrowly defeated in a key vote on its Brexit bill after a rebellion by 11 Tory MPs on Wednesday. Despite a last-minute attempt to offer minor concessions in the Commons, the amendment to the bill was backed by 309 to 305 as the Conservative rebels said it was too little too late.
Amendment 7 to Clause 9 was tabled by May’s own Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, who leads a faction of “rebels” within the party. The changes call for parliament to have a meaningful vote on any Brexit deal before it is finalized and written into law.
Several lawmakers from the prime minister’s governing Conservative Party sided with the opposition to insist that any withdrawal deal with the EU requires an Act of Parliament to take effect — essentially giving lawmakers a veto on Brexit.
The government argues that the changes could endanger the chances of delivering a smooth departure from the European Union, noting however that the “minor setback” would not prevent the UK leaving the EU in 2019.
Earlier on Wednesday, European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said there will be “no turning back” for Britain on commitments made during an initial divorce deal between the two.
10-Downing Street expressed disappointment with the vote, with opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn calling it “a humiliating loss of authority” for the government.
Stephen Hammond, one of the Conservative MPs who voted against the government, was sacked as Conservative vice chairman in the aftermath of the vote. “Tonight I put country and constituency before party and voted with my principles to give Parliament a meaningful vote,” he tweeted.
Ex-cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, also among Conservatives who refused to budge, tweeted that Parliament had acted to take back “control of the EU Withdrawal process,” while Anna Soubry said the government had “got to stop playing silly games” and realize that times had changed since the Bill was drafted before the election, when May had a Commons majority.
The setback comes nearly five months after May’s conservative Party lost its majority in the 650-seat parliament following snap elections.
Sir Desmond Swayne told the Commons that the amendments are simply aimed at delaying Brexit, dismissing them as “sanctimonious guff” and their Conservative backers as “idiots,” and Senior Tory Bernard Jenkin said, “To dress this attempt to reverse Brexit as an argument in favor of parliamentary sovereignty is nothing but cant.”
The European Parliament’s chief Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt tweeted, “British Parliament takes back control. European and British Parliament together will decide on the final agreement. Interests of the citizens will prevail over narrow party politics. A good day for democracy.”
EU leaders will hold a two-day summit as of Thursday during which they are scheduled to agree that there has been “sufficient progress” for the talks to move to the second phase of future relations and trade, a subject London wants to open as soon as possible.
Following the vote, May was on her way to Brussels to push European leaders to begin discussing the EU’s future trade deal with Britain.
A leaked draft of a text to be considered by the EU 27 leaders on Friday suggests that trade talks may not start until after a subsequent summit in March.
Britain is due to leave the bloc in March 2019, but a Brexit deal will have to be agreed by the fall of 2018 to give national parliaments time to approve it.