Theresa May has accused rebel Tory MPs of attempting to prevent a “smooth and orderly” Brexit.
The prime minister is facing a likely defeat in the Commons on Wednesday evening as backbench Conservative MPs join with Labour to force the government to give parliament a “meaningful vote” on leaving the EU.
May has promised that parliament will be given a vote on the withdrawal agreement.
However the rebels, led by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, want to enshrine the pledge in law by inserting an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill.
Anna Soubry, one of the Tory MPs most likely to vote against the government tonight, urged May to back down in the “spirit of unity”. The Broxtowe MP said during prime minister’s questions: “Nobody wants to be disloyal or bring about more disunity.”
But May rejected the plea. “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.
Earlier today, Brexit Secretary David Davis attempted to placate Tory rebels with a promise of “a number of votes” on the final deal struck between the UK and EU.
However the written statement does not appear to have won over his critics.
May’s lack of a Commons majority leaves the prime minister is vulnerable to revolts - and up to 20 Tory MPs are set to side with Grieve.
Backbench Tories who are supporting his amendment to the Bill include Ken Clarke, Nicky Morgan, Anna Soubry, Jeremy Lefroy, Antoinette Sandbach, Robert Neill, Sarah Wollaston, Stephen Hammond and Heidi Allen.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Allen said denying parliament a binding vote on the exit deal “would be an affront to the system of democracy we have so proudly exported all over the world”.
Labour is set to back Grieve and urged would-be rebels not to be bought off by “warm words and woolly concessions”.
Some pro-Brexit Labour MPs are expected to vote with the government. However HuffPost UK understands that number has been whittled from from seven or eight to just two or three.
Lib Dem Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said it was “no surprise” the prime minister had refused to back down.
“Theresa May is running scared and that the government is reluctant to give parliament a vote on the final deal. It is desperate to avoid proper scrutiny and push through whatever it manages to negotiate,” he said.
The immediate focus for Theresa May is to avoid her first Government
defeat on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, with last-ditch efforts to stop
the Tory rebellion on a ‘meaningful vote’ on any final Brexit deal.
Perhaps stung by claims that he’s the Remainers’ very own Grand Old
Duke Of York (marching his troops up to the edge of the voting lobbies
and back down again) Dominic Grieve was unusually robust yesterday: “I
don’t see any possibility of my backing down at all”.
As ever, there’s a mix of carrot and sticks from the whips, maybe even
one of Gavin Williamson’s “sharpened carrots”. One Government source
played hard cop to David Davis’s soft cop, telling the Daily Mail:
“There can be no surrender on this. We need to put the squeeze on them
and see what they are made of.” As we report, rebels were called in to
see the new Chief Whip Julian Smith last night and were unimpressed by
his warning that ill-discipline would ruin the narrative of the PM’s
excellent week. So far, they have refused to be bought off by the
promise of a new Written Ministerial Statement from DD. Published
unusually early, the statement says a meaningful vote will take place
“as soon as possible after the negotiations have concluded” (not the
same as an earlier promise of holding one before the European
Parliament votes on it). Grieve remained very bullish on the airwaves
this morning, but ministers will hope the assurances will be enough to
splinter the Rebel Allliance.
Shadow Brexit minister Matt Pennycook tells us Labour wants “a cast
iron guarantee that Parliament will have the final say on the
withdrawal agreement” and Keir Starmer announced his party would
formally back Grieve. DD’s letter to Tory MPs this morning reassures
them he wants to “listen and value” MPs’ views. Justine Greening told
the Today programme “we have genuinely listened to the debate” and
promised a meaningful vote before the new Withdrawal Agreement and
Implementation Bill. Yet it seems the only thing some Remainers will
settle for is an actual Government clause adopting the Grieve
amendment. A U-turn is less damaging than a Commons defeat, but if
Grieve loses this one he may also lose next week’s vote on fixing Exit
Date itself. It’s game on.