Lords defeat Theresa May on 'meaningful vote' to set up House of Commons Brexit showdown

  • Theresa May suffers defeat in House of Lords over “meaningful vote” plans.
  • House of Lords voted by 354 to 235 on Monday in favour of an amendment which would hand MPs a bigger role if the government doesn’t have a Brexit deal by February.
  • It was a big defeat for the government, losing by 119 votes.
  • The amendment will now head back to the House of Commons on Wednesday, where May faces a showdown with Conservative rebel MPs.
  • Rebel Tory MP, Dominic Grieve warned that MPs could “collapse the government” if they were denied the ability to block a “catastrophic” no-deal Brexit.

LONDON – Theresa May’s plan to minimise the role of MPs in Brexit negotiations has been rejected by the House of Lords, in the latest move in a parliamentary battle which threatens to destabilise her fragile government.

The House of Lords voted by 354 to 235 on Monday evening in favour of an amendment to Brexit legislation which would force ministers to give MPs a veto if talks between the EU and UK fail to produce an acceptable deal.

The amendment was tabled by Lord Hailsham after a group of pro-EU Tory MPs, fronted by Dominic Grieve, insisted that MPs should be given the power to stop leaving Britain from the European Union with no deal if Brexit negotiations fail to produce an agreement, or if the deal reached is voted down in Westminster.

The amendment – widely referred to as the “meaningful amendment” – is opposed by the government because it believes would hand Parliament too much power and weaken the UK’s negotiating hand in Brussels.

How did we get here?

Last week, Prime Minister May met with Grieve and around a dozen rebel Tory MPs – including Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke – in a bid to stave off a potential rebellion which could seriously undermine her leadership.

Following two days of talks, both sides appeared to have agreed on the details of the “meaningful vote” amendment, a compromise between their respective positions which provided a significant role for Parliament in negotiations.

The Conservative rebels claimed they had been personally assured by May that MPs would be given the power to veto a no deal Brexit if the prime minister didn’t have a withdrawal agreement signed off by February.

However, in an afternoon of drama, Grieve accused Downing Street of changing the amendment at the last minute.

The text of the amendment, published last Thursday, does not give MPs an explicit veto if no Brexit deal is reached with the EU, something rebels had insisted on. Instead, it merely gives them a vote on an unamendable statement, meaning their vote would have no legal consequences.

Grieve called the move a “slap in the face” and tabled his own amendment to the legislation. His Conservative colleague, Anna Soubry, accused the government of breaking promises made to the rebels.

“Grateful for the conversations but without consultation what was agreed earlier today has been changed,” she said.

Fellow backbencher Sarah Wollaston said there was no majority in parliament for the government’s position.

“There is no attempt here to overturn the referendum or to micromanage the negotiations simply that the majority of MPs will not support a cliff-edge no-deal Brexit & will insist on a meaningful vote,” she tweeted.

The Labour Party said the offer was “not good enough.”

What happens next?

The result in the Lords on Monday evening sets up a fresh showdown in the House of Commons on Wednesday, as part of the parliamentary “ping-pong” process that occurs before both Houses agree on any piece of legislation.

Peers voted in favour of an amendment which reflects what Grieve and the Conservative rebels thought they had agreed with the prime minister last week – an explicit veto on a no deal Brexit.

Grieve warned on Sunday that rebels could “collapse the government” if they were denied the ability to block a “catastrophic” no-deal Brexit, warning they would not back down to Downing Street this week.

“I’m absolutely sure that the group is quite determined that the meaningful vote pledge, which was given to us, has got to be fulfilled,” he said.

“The alternative is that we’ve all got to sign up to a slavery clause now, saying whatever the government does, when it comes to January, however potentially catastrophic it might be for my constituents and my country, I’m signing in blood now that I will follow over the edge of a cliff, and that I can tell you, I am not prepared to do.”

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