Boris Johnson signals he could concede to Tory rebels demands over Brexit bill, reports suggest

Prime minister Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street

Prime minister Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Boris Johnson could be preparing to concede to amendments to his Brexit bill being proposed by Tory rebels, reports have suggested.

The FT is reporting the prime minister could concede to a demand by Tory MP Bob Neill that would force the government into seeking parliamentary consent before breaking the Withdrawal Agreement.

It is reported the prime minister is keen to ward off a rebellion in the House of Lords by garnering strong support for the bill in the Commons.

A group of 29 Tory MPs abstained and two voted against Johnson’s Brexit bill when it passed through the Commons Monday evening. The bill passed with a majority of 77.

But Tory rebels remain “cautiously optimistic” the prime minister will give in to Neill’s demands before another crucial vote on Tuesday.

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According to the FT, justice secretary Robert Buckland has been tasked with finding a way to assure rebels that parliament would have a “lock” on the process while avoiding the impression the government was about to commit another big U-turn.

One prominent Tory MP told the paper: “Despite all the heat, it’s quite a technical thing to be resolved. Clearly conversations are being had.” Another MP said: “My gut is that something will be hammered out before next week.”

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This comes after two Brexiteers, Roger Gale and Andrew Percy, voted against the prime minister’s bill in protest against plans it would be used to break international law.

Charles Walker, vice chair of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, also waded into the argument, warning the government of a possible rebellion. “If you keep whacking a dog, don’t be surprised when it bites you back,” he warned.

Adding to that sentiment, a former cabinet minister said: “The revolutionaries in Number 10 may think the Conservative Party is a useful vehicle for them, but we are reaching the point where the Conservative Party will no longer tolerate it.”

Rebels are fuming that the government’s latest legislation - which gives ministers unilateral power to interpret the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement - would break “international law in a very specific and limited way”.

A Downing Street official admitted in a meeting of Tory backbenchers that the government could have handled its messaging better, the i reports, after new legal advice has emerged suggesting the bill could be legally sound.

BBC Newsnight’s Nick Watt confirmed in a series of tweets that the “ball is rolling” in terms of a possible deal with the rebels. He claimed that government could effectively accept the Neill amendment because it would mean the controversial clauses could only be invoked by a parliamentary vote and not directly by ministers, and therefore be harder to challenge in court. 

Former Tory rebels remain unimpressed. Ex-Tory MP David Gauke, who had the whip removed after voting against Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement last year, tweeted: “If taking the power to override a treaty is in itself a breach of international law (which is implicit in what [Northern Ireland Secretary] Brandon Lewis said), additional safeguards on the exercise of any such power (such as requiring a Commons vote) doesn’t stop it being a breach of international law.”He added: “I wouldn’t be surprised if the government accepts the Neill Amendment. But the Internal Market Bill would still be in breach of international law and any MP voting in support of the relevant provisions would be condoning that.”

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