May wins the battle but the war is far from over
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Brexit rebels failed in their bid to force the government's hand over a 'meaningful vote' but it took another last-gasp deal to avoid humiliation for Theresa May.
The government defeated the amendment tabled by Dominic Grieve by 319 votes to 303 after a 11th-hour fudge which saw the Brexit secretary claim it was for speaker John Bercow to make the ultimate decision over whether MPs would get a say on a no-deal withdrawal.
Victory for the rebels would have ensured the Commons would have the chance to block a 'no deal' Brexit.
Potential Tory rebels were bristling at May's plan to offer only a symbolic vote on an unamendable 'neutral motion' which would simply note that no agreement has been reached with Brussels. They want a 'meaningful vote' allowing them to approve or reject the government's proposed next steps.
David Davis' statement, which circulated in Westminster as debate began on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, made clear that Commons standing orders give the speaker the final say on whether a motion is amendable or not.
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Prominent pro-EU Tory Nicky Morgan – who was among those believed to be considering voting against the government – tweeted: 'On this basis parliament's vote is meaningful – and I will support government amendment.'
But anti-Brexit rebel Anna Soubry was unconvinced, claiming Mr Davis was 'dancing on the head of a pin' and tweeting '#worldgonemad'.
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Although Grieve decided to pull his support for the amendment Tory Remainer Antoinette Sandbach told MPs she would still be supporting it.
Sandbach said no deal would be 'utterly catastrophic', adding: 'We are often accused of wanting to tie the Government's hands, nothing could be further from the truth.
'How can this amendment tie the hands of the Government during negotiations when it concerns steps that should be taken when negotiations have broken down?'
She added: 'Not to have a process in place for what would happen should negotiations collapse would be irresponsible.'
The government whips also came under fire for refusing the usual convention of 'nodding through' sick MPs which means their vote is not lost even though they cannot attend in person. Naz Shah went through the lobby in a wheel chair clutching a sick bucket.
Six Conservative MPs rebelled: Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire), Ken Clarke (Rushcliffe), Phillip Lee (Bracknell), Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury), Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) and Sarah Wollaston (Totnes).
Best for Britain champion Layla Moran MP said:'The government have been forced kicking and screaming into giving away more concessions at the 11th hour to stave off a humiliating defeat. This government and its Brexit strategy is a shambles.
'The government played dirty on this one, using some real gutter tactics: they tried to take advantage of sick and elderly Labour MPs in a desperate bid to win this Brexit vote, but had to concede with only hours to go before the vote.
'The real significance of today's showdown is that it's a dress rehearsal for the biggie next month – the customs union amendment to the Trade Bill. The prime minister now knows that we have the numbers and the steel to force her hand again.
'She must now agree to a People's Vote with the option to remain and let citizens, not politicians, have the final say over this process.'
The legislation must now go back to the Upper House in the latest stage of 'parliamentary ping-pong'.
The rebels focus will now turn to the Trade Bill which will be debated next month. Amendments could be tabled around the customs union arrangements with the EU post-Brexit.