Brexit withdrawal deal will be put to MPs 'well before' UK leaves EU, says May

Theresa May

Theresa May has insisted that MPs will be given a vote on the Brexit withdrawal deal as she faced the prospect of a Tory revolt and embarrassing Commons defeat on the issue.

The prime minister and Brexit secretary David Davis have mounted a campaign to win over would-be rebels ahead of the crunch vote on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

Rebel ringleader and former attorney general Dominic Grieve said he believed he had enough support to defeat the Government this evening unless ministers gave in and offered further guarantees about the nature of the vote MPs and peers will be given on the Brexit deal.

At prime minister's questions, Mrs May said: "We will put the final withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before it comes into force."

Westminster would be given a vote ahead of the European Parliament and "well before" the date of Brexit in March 2019.

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"To be clear, the final deal will be agreed before we leave and Honourable and Right Honourable Members will get a vote on it," she told the Commons.

Labour is set to back Mr Grieve and urged would-be rebels not to be bought off by "warm words and woolly concessions".

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Mr Grieve told Sky News that the Government was not listening to the concerns he had raised and had turned the issue into a "battle of wills" in a "completely pointless" way.

Mrs May said the withdrawal agreement with Brussels would be put into legislation "which will be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny".

Further agreements on the future relationship between the UK and EU could require "further legislation where it's needed to implement this into UK law, providing yet another opportunity for proper parliamentary scrutiny", the prime minister said.

Mr Davis wrote to Tory MPs and issued a written ministerial statement committing the government to "a number of votes" on the final deal struck with Brussels.

The prime minister's lack of a majority leaves her vulnerable to any Commons revolt and, with up to 20 Tory MPs set to side with Mr Grieve in the division lobbies, she could face a damaging blow to her authority.

The assurances from Mrs May and Mr Davis may not go far enough to prevent a Brexit defeat on the eve of the prime minister's attendance at a summit in Brussels with European Union counterparts.

Mr Grieve said he wanted it written into the EU (Withdrawal) Bill that the Government can only implement elements of the withdrawal agreement once a statute allowing them to do so had been passed - a measure which appears to go beyond the promised vote on a resolution of both Houses.

The statute sought by Mr Grieve would undergo full parliamentary scrutiny - meaning it could be rewritten by MPs, potentially leaving the government vulnerable to further revolts over elements of the withdrawal deal.

Mr Grieve said the government was not listening to criticism.

"I hope the government will move, irrespective of whether or not they think they are heading for a defeat," he told Sky News.

"I have no desire to defeat my government at all. I'm not a rebel. I think I have only rebelled once - over a local issue - in the 21 years I've been in Parliament.

"I don't want to do that, but the government needs to listen to what's being said to them. And at the moment, unfortunately, my impression of the last few days, when I've been talking to the government, is that it seems to be a bit of a dialogue of the deaf.

"They've turned this into a battle of wills. And this is a completely pointless exercise.

"They need to listen to the point that's being made and they need to respond to it."

Mr Grieve said he was concerned that without an amendment guaranteeing a meaningful say for Parliament, the government would have the power to push the final deal through by the use of statutory instruments.

In an attempt to address Mr Grieve's point about the power to use secondary legislation, Mr Davis used a letter to Tory MPs to say: "The government will not implement any parts of the withdrawal agreement - for example by using Clause 9 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - until after this vote has taken place."

Meanwhile, Brexit minister Steve Baker indicated that MPs were not expected to be granted a vote if the government fails to conclude a withdrawal agreement with the EU by the March 2019 deadline set in Article 50 of the treaties.

At a hearing of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, Mr Baker said the two-year deadline for Brexit was set out in Article 50, which had already been approved by both Houses of Parliament when they passed the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Act without amendment.

He told the committee: "Thanks to the process of that Act going through Parliament, Parliament has already approved us leaving the EU on that date. That is a decision which has been taken."

Signalling support for Mr Grieve's amendment and a similar measure proposed by Labour, shadow Brexit minister Matthew Pennycook said: "Tory rebels have talked the talk, now they must walk the walk.

"The decision MPs make today will determine whether or not the UK goes down the path of a Brexit that respects parliamentary democracy."

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