May channels John Major as she begs her rebel MPs 'don't tie my hands'

PUBLISHED: 14:28 18 June 2018 | UPDATED: 14:28 18 June 2018

Two Conservatives prime ministers struggling to keep their parties together over Europe

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Embattled Theresa May today channeled her predecessor John Major as she begged rebel MPs in her Conservative party not to tie her hands on Brexit.

The prime minister insisted Parliament must not be able to "overturn the will of the British people" as she faced a fresh battle over her Brexit legislation.

With the EU (Withdrawal) Bill returning to the House of Lords today, peers look ready to launch a fresh round of parliamentary "ping pong" and send amendments back to the Commons which Mrs May has said would tie her hands in negotiations with Brussels.

Tensions heightened after former attorney general Dominic Grieve warned that the Tory rebels he leads could "collapse" the government if they disagreed with the final outcome of withdrawal talks, and had the right to a proper say on Brexit.

The prime minister insisted she had been listening to the concerns of critics but the legislation must not restrict her freedom in talks with Brussels.

"As we keep faith with people who voted to leave the European Union, and many of those who didn't but are now saying 'let's just get on with it', we need to make sure we are putting this legislation into place," she said.

"But as we do that, of course we have been listening to concerns about the role of Parliament, but we need to make sure that Parliament can't tie the government's hands in negotiation and can't overturn the will of the British people."

The wording had unfortunate overtones of her predecessor, Sir John Major, who, breaking off from the 1997 general election campaign to take on the anti-EU 'bastards' in his own party over the single currency, said: "Whether you agree with me or disagree with me; like me or loathe me, don't bind my hands when I am negotiating on behalf of the British nation."

In Mrs May's case her rebels are pro-EU and insistent that Parliament has a say on whatever Brexit deal the prime minister brings back from Brussels.

Mr Grieve insisted rebels would only accept a "meaningful vote" and not the "slavery clause" the government was offering.

Brexiteer Tory MP Nigel Evans claimed to be "staggered" by Mr Grieve's remarks.

He told BBC Radio 4's The Westminster Hour: "I don't want to fetter my Prime Minister while she's negotiating the best deal for Britain.

"And part of that has got to be where, if [EU chief negotiator] Michel Barnier tries to give us a very bad deal, that she can turn around and say 'no, I'd rather not do that'."

Under government plans, if MPs reject the agreement reached by Mrs May with Brussels, or if no deal has been obtained by January 21, Parliament will be offered the opportunity to vote on a "neutral motion" stating it has considered a minister's statement on the issue.

Crucially, the motion will be unamendable, meaning MPs cannot insert a requirement for Mrs May to go back to the negotiating table, extend the Brexit transition or revoke the UK's withdrawal under Article 50.

Expected Lords amendments to the Brexit legislation are set to return to the Commons on Wednesday.

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