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Brexit latest: Pressure mounts on Theresa May despite avoiding humiliating defeat in key Commons vote

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 13/06/2018 Patrick Grafton-Green
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(Video provided by Bloomberg)

Pressure is mounting on Theresa May despite seeing off a threatened rebellion over her flagship Brexit bill with the last-minute promise of concessions.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister saw off a move by MPs to secure a “meaningful vote” on the eventual deal with the EU, however reports suggest no concessions have actually been agreed.

That leaves open the prospect of leaving what is believed to be between 15 and 20 Tory rebels disappointed, which could cause significant problems for Mrs May further down the line.

The PM still faces a gruelling bout of "parliamentary ping-pong" with the Lords as the Bill bounces back and forth between the two Houses over the coming weeks.

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A statement issued after the vote by the Department for Exiting the European Union struck a defiant note.

Theresa May smiling for the camera © Provided by Independent Print Limited It said: “We have not, and will not, agree to the House of Commons binding the Government's hands in the negotiations."

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "We will wait and see the details of this concession and will hold ministers to account to ensure it lives up to the promises they have made to Parliament."

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: "Time will tell as to whether this is just another attempt to buy off the rebels or a real attempt at consensus.

"But if we face the prospect of a 'meaningless process' rather than a 'meaningful vote', Parliament will be enraged."

Last ditch talks

Mrs May met pro-EU Tories in her private room in the Commons to hear their demands moments before Tuesday’s crucial vote.

Senior Remainer Dominic Grieve said she promised to table amendments in the House of Lords which will address their concerns.

a man wearing a suit and tie: david-davis.jpg © Provided by Independent Print Limited david-davis.jpg Moments later, MPs voted by 324 to 298 to reject a House of Lords amendment to the EU withdrawal bill which would have given Parliament the power to tell the PM to go back and renegotiate the Brexit deal she secures from Brussels.

Mr Grieve withdrew his own amendment, which would have given MPs powers to dictate what the Government should do if no acceptable agreement is reached by February 2019.

The former attorney general said: "The Prime Minister agreed that the amendments we had tabled, and the issue that we had raised about Parliament's role in the event of no deal was an important one, and undertook to work with us to put together amendments to present in the Lords which would address those concerns."

He said he expects ministers to provide a mechanism by which Parliament has to be consulted by the end of November in the event of no deal or if a proposed agreement is rejected.

In a statement later, the Department for Exiting the European Union said the government had "agreed to look for a compromise".

a group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera: politics-brexit-182011.jpg © Provided by Independent Print Limited politics-brexit-182011.jpg "On the meaningful vote we have agreed to look for a compromise when this goes back to the Lords," a spokesman said.

"The Brexit Secretary has set out three tests that any new amendment has to meet – not undermining the negotiations, not changing the constitutional role of Parliament and Government in negotiating international treaties, and respecting the referendum result.

"We have not, and will not, agree to the House of Commons binding the Government's hands in the negotiations."

Following the compromise, Mrs May is expected to get through the latest round of crunch Brexit votes unscathed, with a potentially explosive clash over the customs union on Wednesday already defused by a compromise amendment.

She won a succession of votes on Tuesday overturning Lords amendments, including one which would have removed the date of Brexit on March 29, 2019 from the text of the Bill.

Dramatic resignation

Earlier, Mrs May was hit by the dramatic resignation of justice minister Phillip Lee, who quit the Government live on stage during a speech in London in order to be able to back Mr Grieve's amendment.

Dr Lee called for a second referendum on whatever deal Mrs May secures from the EU.

He later told the Commons there was growing evidence that the Government's Brexit policy is "detrimental to the people we were elected to serve".

In the event, Dr Lee abstained on the crucial vote, saying he was "delighted" the Government had agreed to introduce an amendment giving Parliament "the voice I always wanted it to have in the Brexit process".

Government criticised

The Government came under fire on Tuesday from Labour and the SNP for failing to offer enough time to debate the Lords devolution amendments.

The SNP Commons leader Pete Wishart asked Cabinet Office minister David Lidington if he was "ashamed and embarrassed and appalled" that less than 20 minutes had been left to discuss the matters.

He asked: "Is (Mr Lidington) not ashamed and embarrassed and appalled that we have 15 minutes to discuss these critical devolution issues, amendments that were designed in the House of Lords and we the directly elected members have not had the opportunity to debate them.

"Isn't he ashamed of himself?"

Shadow Scotland minister Paul Sweeney said "insufficient parliamentary time" had been allocated for discussion of powers and issues related to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland's devolved administrations.

Mr Lidington insisted that the Government had allowed “perfectly adequate” time for debate on these issues.

He added that the Government had made "very substantial compromises" to address the concerns that were raised by Scotland and Wales.

Speaker John Bercow acknowledged there was a "very understandable sense of grievance", but said the Commons has complied with its standing orders.

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