- Defeat for May as Lords Vote to Give Parliament ‘Meaningful Brexit Vote’
Theresa May has suffered a major defeat in the Lords, paving the way for a fresh Commons showdown with pro-EU Tory backbenchers over her Brexit plans.
Peers voted by 354 to 235 – a majority of 119 – to give parliament a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal reached between the government and Brussels.
The division list revealed there were 22 Tory rebels in the Lords who backed a new amendment, including the former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine and former ministers Lord Patten, Lord Willetts and Baroness Warsi.
The decisive vote means the amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill will now be passed back to MPs for a vote when the legislation returns to the Commons on Wednesday.
It sets the stage for a significant clash between the prime minister and pro-EU Tory rebels who have warned they are gearing up to vote against the government on the issue.
The new motion, referred to as “Grieve II”, is along the lines of the compromise agreement Dominic Grieve, the Conservative MP and former attorney general, said he believed he had reached with Ms May last week.
Tensions heightened after Mr Grieve said on Sunday that the Tory rebels could “collapse” the government if they disagreed with the final outcome of the withdrawal talks, and had the right to a proper say on Brexit.
Lord Hailsham, the former Tory minister who tabled the amendment in the Lords, said it required the government, in the absence of any political agreement by the end of 21 January 2019, to make a statement setting out how it proposed to proceed and allow MPs to vote.
Under government plans, if MPs reject the agreement reached by Ms May with Brussels, or if no deal has been obtained by 21 January, parliament will be offered the opportunity to vote on a “neutral motion” stating it has considered a minister’s statement on the issue.
Crucially, the motion will be unamendable, meaning MPs cannot insert a requirement for Ms May to go back to the negotiating table, extend the Brexit transition or revoke the UK’s withdrawal under Article 50.
During the heated debate, Lord Hailsham said the government had failed to deliver on its promise to provide MPs with a “meaningful vote” on the final deal.
He said Mr Grieve believed he had reached an agreement with the government last week on the issue, but it appeared “senior ministers” had objected to the proposals and it had now been “repudiated”.
He acknowledged he did not believe in Brexit, which was a “national calamity”, but insisted the House of Commons should have a “decisive say one way or another”.
“This government has sought to prevent a meaningful vote in every possible way. I want to ensure that parliament does have a meaningful vote and I don’t want to see that left to chance,” he added.
The prime minister said she had been listening to the concerns of critics but the legislation must not restrict her freedom in talks with Brussels.
“As we keep faith with people who voted to leave the European Union, and many of those who didn’t but are now saying ‘let’s just get on with it’, we need to make sure we are putting this legislation into place,” she said.
“But as we do that, of course we have been listening to concerns about the role of parliament, but we need to make sure that parliament can’t tie the government’s hands in negotiation and can’t overturn the will of the British people.”