Breaking: Theresa May faces off Brexit rebels in dramatic 'meaningful vote' Commons showdown

BBC NewsMPs gather in the House of Commons before the result of the ‘meaningful vote’ amendment vote is announced.
  • Theresa May avoids historic defeat as MPs vote against “meaningful vote” amendment.
  • The amendment, tabled by Conservative “rebel” MP Dominic Grieve, would have given Parliament the ability to veto a no-deal Brexit.
  • However, Grieve and other potential Tory rebels agreed to back down after May’s government offered a compromise. A total of six Conservative MPs ended up rebelling.
  • MPs voted by 319 to 303 against the amendment, giving the government a majority of 16.
  • “This is a disappointing result and comes after Theresa May is forced once again to try to buy off her own MPs at the eleventh hour,” Labour’s Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer, said.
  • Explained: The “meaningful vote” amendment and why it is important.

LONDON – Theresa May saw off a potential Conservative rebellion on Wednesday after MPs voted against an amendment which would have handed Parliament the power to block a “no-deal” Brexit.

MPs voted by 319 to 303 against the amendment, which was designed by pro-Remain Tory MP Dominic Grieve, after he insisted that Parliament should have the right to veto a potentially “catastrophic” no-deal Brexit scenario.

On Wednesday morning, Conservative rebels, along with the support of most Labour MPs, were relatively confident that they had enough votes to pass the amendment.

But Conservative whips – who are tasked with persuading their colleagues to vote with the government – did enough to persuade some rebels to retreat. Only six Tories decided to rebel, sparing May a humiliating defeat.

Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, said:”This is a disappointing result and comes after Theresa May is forced once again to try to buy off her own MPs at the eleventh hour.

“Labour has long argued that Parliament should have a proper role in the Brexit negotiations and a meaningful vote on the terms upon which we leave the European Union.

“We will continue to make that argument and press our case at every opportunity.”

Grieve surrenders

The rebellion appears to have been quelled by a last-minute “compromise” from Brexit secretary, David Davis.

He initially said that the government would only offer the House of Commons a vote on a “neutral” and therefore unamendable statement in the event May brought back a Brexit withdrawal deal. Rebels interpreted that to mean their vote would, in those circumstances, have no real effect, even if it went against the government.

But on Wednesday, Davis released a new statement disputing the meaning of a motion being presented “in neutral terms.” He said in a letter to MPs that it would be for Commons speaker, John Bercow, to determine whether a motion is cast in neutral terms, and therefore to determine whether MPs would be get a binding vote.

That was enough to convince Grieve, the amendment’s architect, to back down. He announced to MPs that he was prepared to support the government’s new compromise shortly before the vote took place.

“I am prepared to accept the government’s difficulty and in the circumstances to accept the form of amendment it wants,” he told MPs.

His colleague and prospective rebel Nicky Morgan was also persuaded to vote with the government. She said the clarification meant that “Parliament’s vote is meaningful.”

Five Conservative MPs rebelled against the government. They were Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen, Ken Clarke, and Dr Philip Lee, who resigned from the justice department last week in protest against the government’s handling of Brexit.

Four Labour MPs defied Jeremy Corbyn and voted with the government: Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Graham Stringer, and John Mann.

What is the meaningful vote amendment?

Put simply, the “meaningful vote” amendment would have handed MPs a binding vote on the final Brexit deal the prime minister plans to bring back from Brussels later this year.

In practice, that means May would only have been able to sign off a Brexit deal once given parliamentary approval. Had the amendment passed, and MPs voted down her deal, they’d have been able to decide what the next course of action should have been. That could have included requesting an extension to the Article 50 negotiating process, or putting the issue to another national referendum.

Dominic GrieveGettyDominic Grieve.

Labour and other opposition MPs support a meaningful vote as they believe it rules out the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal. Most MPs would block a no deal Brexit, partly because virtually all evidence suggests it would be catastrophic for the economy. Government analysis found that UK GDP could drop by as much as 8% after Brexit in a no deal scenario. A no deal would also unleash a myriad of other problems, not least a hard border on the island of Ireland, which May has said will not happen on her watch.

The government does not want MPs to have a meaningful vote because they claim it would undermine the prime minister’s negotiating position. Some pro-Brexit MPs claim the amendment is simply as an attempt to thwart Brexit.

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