Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 26 May 2019

Brexit: UK government avoids defeat on key vote after concession

Earlier on Tuesday a minister resigned over the government's Brexit policy

Anti-Brexit demonstrators gather outside the Houses of Parliament in London, England. Chris J Ratcliffe/ Getty Images
Anti-Brexit demonstrators gather outside the Houses of Parliament in London, England. Chris J Ratcliffe/ Getty Images

UK prime minister Theresa May survived a parliamentary challenge to her Brexit policy on Tuesday after making a significant concession to rebellious lawmakers from her own Conservative Party.

Mrs May looked as if she could have been defeated by a key amendment in the EU withdrawal bill- known as the meaningful vote- introduced by the House of Lords, which would have given parliament powers to direct the Brexit negotiations.

If it had been accepted the amendment would have given the lower chamber, the House of Commons, a “meaningful vote” on any deal agreed with Brussels before Britain leaves the EU in March next year. This would have thereby given parliament more power to set the government’s direction if the agreement is rejected.

The government promised a last-minute concession to rebel lawmakers to avoid defeat, which is understood to be an offer of a parliamentary motion if a final Brexit deal is voted down. The motion could then be amended and voted on.

The prime minister is facing two days of crunch votes as parliamentarians in the Commons, are being asked to reject or approve a series of amendments made to the EU withdrawal bill by the upper chamber, the Lords.

Mrs May has appealed to politicians to reject 14 of the 15 amendments, asking them to “think about the message Parliament will send to the European Union this week".

Earlier on Tuesday the government suffered a setback as one minister resigned over what he called the government’s plans to “limit” the role of parliament in shaping Brexit.

Dr Phillip Lee, a minister in the Justice Department, said he could not "in all good conscience, support how our country’s current exit from the EU looks set to be delivered".


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Ahead of the first votes, Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis warned politicians in parliament that rebelling against the government would tie his hands when negotiating in Brussels.

"What it actually amounts to is an unconstitutional shift which risks undermining our negotiation with the European Union,” he said.

Speaking on BBC radio on Tuesday morning, Mr Davis said a meaningful vote would not lead to Britain staying in the EU.

"Whatever we do, we're not going to reverse that [decision to leave the EU]," he said. "A meaningful vote is not the ability to reverse the decision of the referendum."

He warned that such rumours were damaging to the Brexit talks because EU negotiators “read all the British newspapers avidly and believe them all”.

“Every time we do anything in the UK, Brussels follows incredibly closely,” the minister told the BBC.

Of the 15 amendments introduced by the Lords to the bill, the government’s main opposition, the Labour Party is backing 14.

Labour told pro-EU Conservative members of parliament that are thinking of rebelling against Mrs May to use the opportunity to "decisively shape the course of the negotiations".

Conservative lawmakers Anna Soubry, Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve had expressed their support for a greater parliamentary role in scrutinising the government’s Brexit bill during debates on Tuesday.

When announcing his resignation, Dr Lee said he would rebel and vote to "empower parliament" but later decided to abstain.

He later tweeted to say that the government's concession on the "meaningful vote" had made his resignation worthwhile.

Losing the vote in the Commons would have spelt serious trouble for Mrs May, whose position as prime minister was weakened last year when she lost her parliamentary majority after calling a general election.

Updated: June 12, 2018 09:06 PM