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Brexit latest: EU Withdrawal Bill clears Parliament as peers back down after Theresa May sees off backbench revolt

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 20/06/2018 Ella Wills

Theresa May wearing glasses and smiling at the camera © Provided by Independent Print Limited Peers in the House of Lords have backed down over the EU Withdrawal Bill, paving the way for it to become law.

Theresa May's flagship Brexit bill cleared its final parliamentary hurdle on Wednesday following a major Commons victory for the Government.

The Prime Minister avoided a backbench rebellion with an eleventh hour concession to pro-EU Tories this afternoon over a so-called “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal.

MPs voted by 319 to 303 to reject a House of Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would have ensured the Commons would have the chance to block a "no deal" Brexit.

Theresa May posing for the camera: TheresaMay2006a.jpg © Provided by Independent Print Limited TheresaMay2006a.jpg The legislation subsequently returned to the Upper House in the final stage of "parliamentary ping-pong", where it passed without a vote.

The Department for Exiting the EU said it marked a "crucial step" in the UK preparations for leaving the bloc.

"It is a good moment for all those who want a smooth and orderly exit," a spokesman said.

The Bill, which is vital to ensure a smooth withdrawal from the EU, will now go forward to receive Royal Assent and become law.

Earlier, there were dramatic scenes at Westminster as MPs were told shortly before the key vote that an official ministerial statement would be issued on Thursday making clear it is ultimately for Speaker John Bercow to decide whether they get a "meaningful vote" on a no-deal withdrawal from the EU.

Related: Anti-Brexit campaigners celebrate rebel MPs (AFP)

The concession was accepted by leading pro-EU Tory Dominic Grieve, who was greeted with jeers of "shame" from the opposition benches when he declared he would back the Government.

But it was dismissed as a fudge by Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon and described as meaningless by Labour whips.

Despite the concession six Tory rebels voted for the amendment, while on the Labour side four pro-Brexit MPs defied their whips to vote with the Government against it.

Dominic Grieve wearing a suit and tie: grieve.jpg © Provided by Independent Print Limited grieve.jpg Mr Grieve had tabled an amendment to the bill, requiring MPs to be given the opportunity to approve or reject the Government's plans for the next steps in the case that no agreement can be reached with Brussels by Brexit Day in March next year.

With the Government instead offering only an unamendable "neutral motion" allowing MPs to take note of the situation, Mrs May was thought to be facing a knife-edge vote.

Downing Street's determination to force their motion through was indicated when Tory whips made clear they would not abide by a parliamentary convention allowing votes to be "nodded through" from ambulances and cars in the courtyard outside if MPs are too ill to physically pass through the voting lobbies.

Bradford West's Naz Shah, who has been ill, was pushed in to vote in a wheelchair with a sick bucket on her lap, in scenes which fellow Labour MP Catherine McKinnell said showed an "utter lack of humanity and compassion" from the Government.

Meanwhile pregnant Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson and Labour MP Laura Pidcock turned out to oppose the PM's plans despite being close to their due dates.

The statement to be issued on Thursday by Brexit Secretary David Davis states explicitly that the parliamentary rule-book gives the Speaker the power to determine whether a motion is amendable or not.

It also notes the parliamentary convention that time is made available to debate motions tabled by MPs on matters of concern.

But Downing Street left no doubt ministers are confident of drafting a motion which Mr Bercow will deem to be unamendable.

Mrs May's official spokesman told reporters: "We will ensure that under standing orders the motion we bring forward is neutral."

Mr Grieve said the statement amounted to an "obvious acknowledgement of the sovereignty of this place over the executive in black and white language".

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