POLITICS
13/12/2017 19:19 GMT | Updated 14/12/2017 08:45 GMT

Tory Rebels Defeat Theresa May On Key Part Of Brexit Withdrawal Bill

309 to 305, spelling May’s first Parliamentary defeat as PM.

LATEST: Stephen Hammond has been sacked as vice chair of the Conservative Party after rebelling against the Government.

Theresa May has been defeated on a key part of the Brexit process by her own MPs.

This evening, 309 MPs voted in favour of putting into law that MPs would get a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal agreed with Brussels.

Just 305 MPs sided with the Government, giving the rebels victory and with it, Theresa May’s first Parliamentary defeat as Prime Minister.

MPs realised the Government had been defeated when the teller for those backing the amendment stood nearest the opposition benches - a signal of victory for the rebels.

Tory MP Anna Soubry patted the leg of fellow Conservative Dominic Grieve - who tabled the amendment - as a gesture of congratulations after the result was read out.

The Government has repeatedly promised such a vote, but there were concerns that without it locked into law it would not take place until after the UK has officially left the EU.

That would mean MPs would only be able to vote on the Government’s deal or leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation terms – with no chance of sending ministers back to reopen negotiations.  

Analysis: Defeat On The EU Withdrawal Bill Is Embarrassing But Not Fatal For Theresa May

After the result was announced, Stephen Hammond was sacked as vice chair of the Conservative Party. 

Ahead of the crunch vote, Tory whips worked hard to win over as many of the rumoured 20 rebels as possible – with Chief Whip Julian Smith calling many in to his office on Tuesday to try to cut a deal.

The charm offensive continued this morning, with Brexit Secretary David Davis promising MPs “a number of votes” on the final deal struck between the UK and EU.

Even as MPs were called to vote on the amendment it seemed some were still unsure which division lobby to walk into. 

Conservative MP for Chelmsford Vicky Ford, who spent eight years as an MEP, loitered in the Commons chamber before Chancellor Philip Hammond spoke to her and helped her walk through the No lobby in support of the Government.

After the defeat, a Government spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that Parliament has voted for this amendment despite the strong assurances that we have set out.  

“We are as clear as ever that this Bill, and the powers within it, are essential.

“This amendment does not prevent us from preparing our statute book for exit day. We will now determine whether further changes are needed to the Bill to ensure it fulfills its vital purpose.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “This defeat is a humiliating loss of authority for the Government on the eve of the European Council meeting.

“Labour has made the case since the referendum for a meaningful vote in Parliament on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

“Theresa May has resisted democratic accountability. Her refusal to listen means she will now have to accept Parliament taking back control.”

In an at times heated debate in the Commons this afternoon, former Attorney General Dominic Grieve – who tabled the amendment - cited Sir Winston Churchill as his inspiration for taking on the Government.

He said: “Apart from on HS2, I do not think that I have ever rebelled against the Government in my 20 and a half years in this House.

“I do find it quite entertaining that some who criticise me for speaking my mind on this matter are individuals who appear to have exercised the luxury of rebellion on many, many occasions.

“But that said, there is a time for everybody to stand up and be counted. As Churchill said: ‘He is good party man—he puts the party before himself and the country before his party.’ And that is what I intend to do.”

Pro-Brexit MP Bernard Jenkin, who made his name by rebelling against his own party on the Maastricht Treaty in the 1990s, prompted anger when he told MPs: “This is not the moment to try to defeat the Government.” 

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Earlier in the debate Jenkin denied that Clause 9 of the Bill – “Implementing the withdrawal agreement” – was about leaving the EU.

His comment prompted anti-Brexit MP Anna Soubry to shout “read it!” at him as she held up the Bill for him to examine.

In Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this afternoon, May rejected a plea from Soubry to accept the rebel amendment in the “spirit of unity”

May replied: “We will ensure there is a meaningful vote in this House, there will then of course be an opportunity for Parliament to look at the withdrawal agreement and implementation bill,” she said.

She said “as currently drafted”, Grieve’s amendment could end up delaying the legislative process in the run up to Brexit in March 2019 “which could mean we are not able to have the orderly and smooth exit from the EU that we wish to have”.

Soubry, unimpressed, shook her head and said “no” as the Prime Minister spoke.