Theresa May suffers defeat on ‘meaningful vote’ amendment as peers back the change by 366 to 268
David Davis has accused peers of trying to “frustrate” the process of triggering Brexit, as he insisted the Government would overturn the latest Lords amendment to the Article 50 bill.
The Brexit Secretary is confident that a potential Tory rebellion in the Commons will be headed off despite suffering a second Parliamentary defeat on Brexit in the space of a week.
The House of Lords passed an amendment to the Article 50 bill that would force the Government to give MPs a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal before Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.
Theresa May is determined to throw out the amendment when the Bill returns to the Commons for its final reading next week. She believes her hand would be significantly weakened when she begins Brexit negotiations with the EU if Parliament had the power to stop her leaving without a deal.
Mrs May’s existing proposal is that no deal is better than a bad deal, meaning she will take Britain out of the EU even if MPs reject the deal she is offered.
Up to 20 Conservative MPs could vote in favour of the amendment, with rebels encouraging others to abstain.
They include Anna Soubry, the former business minister, who believes a “significant” number of Tories might defy the whip.
The Government has a “Brexit majority” of around 30 MPs – double its normal working majority – because it can count on the support of a number of MPs from other parties.
The danger for Mrs May is that the Lords vote – in which the amendment was passed by 366 votes to 268 – could encourage Conservative MPs representing pro-Remain constituencies to abstain.
Downing Street last night insisted the latest Lords vote would not derail the Prime Minister’s timetable for triggering Article 50 by the end of this month.
It followed a vote last week in which the Lords added another amendment to the Bill which would guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK regardless of whether British citizens living in the EU were given similar guarantees.
Mr Davis said it was “disappointing” that the Lords had made further changes to the Bill, adding: “It is clear that some in the Lords would seek to frustrate that process, and it is the Government’s intention to ensure that does not happen. We will now aim to overturn these amendments in the House of Commons.”
Ms Soubry said: “I’m hoping a significant number of colleagues who may not be able to vote against their Government would consider abstaining, and recognise that their lordships have considered the Bill carefully.
“What do these hard brexiteers fear? They wanted to restore Parliamentary sovereignty, but suddenly they seem terrified of Parliament having a say, never mind sovereignty.”
Ms Soubry suggested that if Mrs May tries to “avoid Parliament” by denying MPs a meaningful vote, she risks being “humiliated” in the Supreme Court, after judges decided last year that Article 50 could not be triggered by ministers without a vote in Parliament.
The Lords amendments will be debated on Monday and Tuesday next week, before Mrs May formally begins the Brexit process, which could happen as early as next Wednesday.
Lord Heseltine, one of the Europhile Conservative peers who backed the amendment, told the Lords that he “deeply” regretted the outcome of last year’s EU referendum and that “the fightback starts here.”
He said: “I do not accept that the mandate for Brexit runs for all time and in all circumstances.
“The 48 per cent [who voted Remain] have the same right to be heard as those who voted for Brexit.”
He said the amendment would ensure that Parliament has the “critical role in determining the future we will bequeath to generations of young people.”
Fellow Conservative peer Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said the amendment was unnecessary, and poked fun at Lord Heseltine’s infamous breach of Parliamentary protocol by saying: “This is not the moment for this House to grab the mace and challenge the authority of the House of Commons.”
Another proposed amendment, which called for a second referendum on Britain’s Brexit deal with the EU, was defeated in the Lords. Among those speaking against it were the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Reverend Justin Welby, who said another referendum would be “unwise and wrong” as it would “add to our divisions, it will deepen the bitterness” that resulted from the original referendum.
Those who opposed it warned allowing the amendment onto the face of the bill would slow down the process and could ultimately lead to Brexit being blocked by those who refused to vote for it in the Commons.
Lords, including the Government minister Lord Bridges, also cautioned that the amendment leaves too many questions unanswered; not least what happens if the UK fails to secure a deal.
The bill will now head back to the House of Commons where it will be considered again by MPs.
Although the amendment is likely to win some support, it is unlikely to be passed in the chamber.
Leave Means Leave: Peers should be ‘ashamed’
Richard Tice, Co-Chair of Leave Means Leave, said: “Any businessperson worth their salt knows that this will undermine the PM’s negotiating position and damages the national interest.
“Unelected, unpatriotic peers are embarrassingly out of touch with basic negotiating techniques.
“They should be ashamed.”
March 7th, 2017: Telegraph