British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday suffered a damaging parliamentary defeat over Brexit, after her own MPs rebelled to demand parliament have the final say on the divorce deal with Brussels.
Members of May’s Conservative party joined with opposition lawmakers to inflict the government’s first defeat over the flagship EU (Withdrawal) Bill, sparking huge cheers in the House of Commons.
Ministers had sought to buy off the rebels with a last-minute promise of a parliamentary vote on the separation agreement, but their leader, former attorney general Dominic Grieve, warned: “It’s too late.”
This evening, 309 MPs voted in favor 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 realized 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.
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 rumored 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 fulfils 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.”
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.”
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.
Image Source: AFP