Theresa May has dodged an expected defeat in the Commons with 11th hour concessions to buy off Tory rebels over a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal.
The biggest threat to the EU Withdrawal Bill was around an amendment sent by the House of Lords calling for a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal, with the option to send ministers back to the negotiating table, as opposed to Mrs May’s preference for a ‘take it or leave it’ token vote between whatever deal is negotiated and no deal.
Justice Minister Peter Lee added fuel to the smouldering rebellion by quitting less than 24 hours before the crunch vote, saying he “could not live with himself” if he supported the government’s “wish to limit parliament’s role in contributing to the final outcome” of Brexit and adding he would support a second referendum on the final Brexit deal.
“If, in the future, I am to look my children in the eye and honestly say that I did my best for them I cannot, in all good conscience, support how our country’s current exit from the EU looks set to be delivered,” he said.
With the number of suspected rebels rising and her authority wobbling dangerously, Mrs May was forced to call more than a dozen mutinous Tories into her office and strike a deal ahead of the vote to secure their loyalty.
She has promised to give parliament more powers by allowing MPs a say on what should be done if Brexit talks are still deadlocked by the end of November this year.
The move is expected to be enough to get the prime minister over the finishing line largely unscathed in the Commons tomorrow – but she faces a gruelling bout of ‘parliamentary ping-pong’ with the Lords, as the Bill bounces back and forth between the two Houses over the coming weeks.
Mr Lee abstained on the vote but said he was “delighted” the Government had agreed to introduce an amendment giving Parliament “the voice I always wanted it to have in the Brexit process”.
But Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake branded the Government’s climbdown nothing more than a ‘meaningless process’.
“At the 59th minute of the 11th hour, as has become a tradition in Brexit negotiations, the Tories have been forced to cobble together a compromise,” he said. “Time will tell as to whether this is just another attempt to buy off the rebels or a real attempt at consensus.
“Ultimately, this process started with the people and should end with the people. Liberal Democrats will therefore continue to campaign for the people to have the final say on the deal, and an opportunity to Exit from Brexit.”