Brexit latest: Commons defeats government to pass motion making no-deal more difficult

20 Tory rebels vote with opposition parties to restrict ministers' power to withdraw UK from EU without an agreement

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 08 January 2019 19:04 GMT
Commons defeats government to pass motion making no-deal more difficult

Theresa May has suffered a fresh Commons defeat after MPs passed a motion to make it harder for ministers to force through a no-deal Brexit.

The amendment to a key government bill was tabled by Commons home affairs committee chair Yvette Cooper and supported by 303 MPs to 296.

It prevents ministers from introducing new tax rises in the case of a no-deal Brexit unless MPs have specifically voted in favour of leaving the EU without an agreement.

20 Conservatives joined with the opposition parties to vote through the change.

The defeat marks the latest in a series of Commons setbacks for the government in the run-up to next week's crunch vote on Ms May's Brexit deal.

MPs are widely expected to reject the proposed withdrawal agreement, prompting mounting fears of Britain crashing out of the EU without an agreement.

The amendment to the Finance Bill was backed by senior MPs from across the Commons, including Conservative select committee chairs Nicky Morgan and Sarah Wollaston and Labour's Hillary Benn and Frank Field, a Brexiteer. Tory grandees Sir Oliver Letwin and Nicholas Soames also supported the move.

The MPs plan to table similar amendments to other bills, including on trade, fisheries and healthcare, that are crucial to implementing a no-deal Brexit.

If passed, they would make it difficult for ministers to take the UK out of the EU without an agreement unless the Commons has approved such an outcome.

Supporters also hope the votes will demonstrate parliament's opposition to a no-deal Brexit amid a cabinet split over how the government should respond if its deal is voted down.

Some ministers are pushing Ms May to agree to leave the EU without a deal if her plan is rejected, but others have insisted that such an outcome would be disastrous for the country.

Government sources played down the significance of the latest defeat, saying the amendment to the Finance Bill would not have a major impact.

Speaking in favour of the motion, Ms Cooper told the Commons: "I'm really worried that delays, drift or brinkmanship mean there is now a serious risk we will end up crashing out of the EU with no deal in just 80 days time.

"I'm worried we could come to the crunch and parliament wouldn't have the powers to stop it happening, and I believe we have a responsibility not to just stand by.

"The government should rule out no deal but if it won't then parliament must make sure that it has the powers to do so if it comes to the crunch."

She said her amendment "provides a safeguard to make it harder for the government to go ahead with no deal without even going back to parliament".

Responding for the government, Treasury minister Robert Jenrick said the Finance Bill would give ministers the power to make only "minor technical changes" in the case of no deal.

He said the bill amounted to "simply prudent preparations to provide our taxpayers with the certainty they deserve" and urged MPs worried about a no-deal outcome to back Ms May's plan.

Labour ordered its MPs to back Ms Cooper's amendment.

Following the government defeat, Jeremy Corbyn said: “This vote is an important step to prevent a no deal Brexit.

“It shows that there is no majority in parliament, the cabinet or the country for crashing out of the EU without an agreement. That is why we are taking every opportunity possible in parliament to prevent no deal.

“Theresa May must now rule out no deal once and for all.”

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