Theresa May will allow Tory MPs to back a Labour call for Parliament to be able to “properly scrutinise” her Brexit strategy before the formal exit process begins in an apparent attempt to see off a backbench rebellion.
A Labour source had said there was a “very real possibility” that rebellious Tories could back the party’s motion in a Commons debate today, which calls for MPs to be given proper scrutiny before Article 50 of the EU treaties is triggered.
But May has now tabled an amendment which will allow Tories to back the text of Labour’s motion but adds caveats insisting that the EU referendum result must be respected and that the Government’s negotiating strategy should not be undermined.
It comes amid growing cross-party pressure for MPs to be given a vote on the Brexit strategy before beginning the formal process of leaving, The Press Association reported.
A No 10 source insisted the Prime Minister’s position on parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit has not changed.
“The Government is focused on delivering on Brexit,” the source said.
“We have always been clear that while we should do nothing to undermine our negotiating position, Parliament has an important role to play, and this motion reflects that.”
But the Labour source described it as “one hell of a climbdown” and said the party had been sounding out Tory MPs who are “very unhappy” with the situation.
“They’re clearly trying to do everything they can do to avoid a vote but given their position was they didn’t think Parliament should have any role that’s one hell of a climbdown,” the source said.
May facing growing calls to allow MPs a vote on the Brexit plan, with Tory former attorney general Dominic Grieve warning that the Government was likely to fall if it attempted to push a deal through without the approval of the Commons.
Pro-Leave Conservative backbencher Stephen Phillips has also pressured the PM, insisting the use of prerogative powers to push a deal through without parliamentary approval would amount to “tyranny”.
Labour’s motion, which would not bind the Government to act on it if approved, reads: “That this House recognises that leaving the EU is the defining issue facing the UK; believes that there should be a full and transparent debate on the Government’s plan for leaving the EU; and calls on the Prime Minister to ensure that this House is able properly to scrutinise that plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked.”
May’s amendment, tabled on Tuesday night, adds to Labour’s motion “and believes that the process should be undertaken in such a way that respects the decision of the people of the UK when they voted to leave the EU on 23 June and does not undermine the negotiating position of the Government as negotiations are entered into which will take place after Article 50 has been triggered”.
The effect of the amendment will mean that Tory MPs can vote with the Government while simultaneously backing Labour’s call without voting for the Opposition motion on its own, if a division is called on Wednesday.
Labour also challenged the Government to answer 170 in-depth questions on the detail of its Brexit plan - one for every day until the end of March deadline for triggering Article 50.
A failure to respond would reinforce a perception that ministers are “blundering” into negotiations with the EU on an artificial timetable with a “flawed Plan A” and “no Plan B whatsoever”, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said.
Ahead of the debate, the pair wrote to Brexit Secretary David Davis to call for a vote but also to stress they do not want to block Brexit.
They said: “Given you have consistently spoken up throughout your career in a highly principled way about the importance of parliamentary sovereignty, we hope you will reflect again on the decision to deny the country’s elected representatives the opportunity to debate and vote on the Government’s plan for Brexit before Article 50 is triggered.
“This would not be for the purpose of blocking the Brexit process, but simply to ensure that process will lead to the best possible outcome for Britain, and that the Government’s proposed plan will deliver that outcome.
“We hope you will ... stay true to your principles, rather than following the edicts of an increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister, who seems intent on repeating her predecessor’s mistakes, whatever the calamitous results.”
Commenting on the Government’s amendment, Sir Keir said: “This is a real victory for Parliament and will help ensure there is proper democratic grip of the Brexit process.
“Labour have argued that Parliament must have a say on the basic terms of the Brexit negotiations before Article 50 is triggered - not to frustrate the referendum result, but to ensure that there is rigour and accountability on this vital issue.
“The Government’s eleventh hour concession on that point is overdue, but greatly welcome.”