Wed | Nov 21, 2018

May defeats Brexit rebels

Published:Thursday | June 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May.

The British government won a key vote in Parliament on its flagship Brexit legislation Wednesday but remains locked in a tussle with lawmakers over the direction of the country's departure from the European Union.

The House of Commons rejected by a vote of 319-303 a proposal to make the government get Parliament's approval before agreeing to a final divorce deal with the EU - or before walking away from the bloc without an agreement.

The bill still needs approval from the unelected House of Lords to become law, but that is expected to be granted now that the elected Commons has had its say.

A majority of lawmakers favour retaining close ties with the bloc, so if it had passed, the amendment would have reduced the chances of a 'no deal' Brexit, a scenario that is feared by United Kingdom businesses but favoured by some Eurosceptic members of Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative minority government, who want a clean break from the EU.

May faced rebellion last week from pro-EU Conservative legislators but avoided defeat by promising Parliament would get a "meaningful vote" on the UK-EU divorce agreement before Brexit occurs next March.

Pro-EU lawmakers later accused the government of going back on its word by offering only a symbolic 'take it or leave it' vote on the final deal and not the ability to take control of the negotiations.

Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer accused May of telling Parliament: "Tough luck. If you don't like my proposed deal, you can have something much worse."

The rebels sought to amend the flagship EU Withdrawal Bill so they could send the government back to the negotiating table if they don't like the deal, or if talks with the EU break down.

The government claimed that would undermine its negotiating hand with the EU.

"You cannot enter a negotiation without the right to walk away," Brexit Secretary David Davis told lawmakers. "If you do, it rapidly ceases to be a negotiation."

But Davis also told lawmakers it would be for the Commons speaker to decide whether lawmakers could amend any motion on a Brexit deal that was put to the House of Commons.

The concession was enough to get Conservative lawmaker Dominic Grieve, a leader of the pro-EU rebel faction, to back down and say he would support the government.

Grieve said the government had acknowledged "the sovereignty of this place (Parliament) over the executive".

Wednesday's vote means the EU Withdrawal Bill - intended to replace thousands of EU rules and regulations with UK statute on the day Britain leaves the bloc - has cleared one of its last major hurdles to becoming law.