Theresa May to ‘look at’ amendment that could let MPs delay Brexit without trade deal

Vote could be mechanism to extend the Article 50 negotiations - if no new satisfactory trade deal is struck by departure day in March 2019

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 11 December 2017 12:23
Theresa May could be defeated over the EU Withdrawal Bill for the first time on Wednesday
Theresa May could be defeated over the EU Withdrawal Bill for the first time on Wednesday

No 10 says it is ready to “look at” an amendment that could give MPs the power to delay Brexit, ahead of a possible embarrassing defeat on Wednesday.

Tory backbenchers are preparing to rebel on the Withdrawal Bill to ensure Parliament has a binding vote on the final Brexit agreement - before the Government can enact Britain's withdrawal.

The vote is crucial because, if no new satisfactory trade deal is struck by exit day in March 2019, it would be a weapon to extend the Article 50 negotiations.

If MPs rejected the deal, making their vote binding would allow them to send Theresa May back to Brussels to ask to delay departure and seek better terms.

Around 20 Conservatives have signalled a readiness to defy the Prime Minister, in a move led by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve – threatening a first defeat on the legislation

Now the Prime Minister’s spokesman has refused to say the Government will continue to oppose amendment 7, telling journalists: “I don’t have anything for you on that.”

He added: “We have said from the outset that we will look at the amendments and, where we consider that improvements can be made to the legislation - given its importance to delivering a smooth Brexit - we will look at them and we will respond to them.”

Strikingly, the comment – hinting at a climbdown - came even as No 10 insisted it would fight a separate revolt over placing the exact date and time of Brexit on the face of the Bill.

Meanwhile, ministers have also retreated over their likely use of “Henry VIII powers” to bypass Parliament when forcing through post-Brexit changes to the law.

They have accepted an amendment tabled by the cross-party Commons Procedure Committee to introduce a new “sifting committee” of backbench MPs to over see the process.

The committee will decide whether statutory instruments proposed by ministers require a vote in the Commons – or can be simply signed through.

However, the bigger fight is over amendment 7. On Sunday, one Tory rebel - Antoinette Sandbach – urged the Government to give way, to avoid a defeat.

“I don't want the government to push it to a vote, I would like them to accept that amendment,” she told Radio 4’s Westminster Hour.

Ms Sandbach described it as “crucially important”, adding: “Taking back control was taking back control to Parliament and not to the executive, to government.”

The Government had been expected to table a compromise motion, but failed to do so by the deadline of 3pm on Friday.

At the weekend, Mr Grieve made clear he would not back down, saying: “The Government has conceded the principle that there must be a statute approving and implementing the withdrawal agreement before we leave the EU. Amendment 7 guarantees that will happen.”

The potential climbdown was welcomed by Francis Grove-White, the deputy director of the pro-EU Open Britain group, who said: “If the Government are serious about giving Parliament and the public a meaningful role in the Brexit process, they must support amendment 7.

“There is no halfway house – the only acceptable concession they could make would be to vote for it.

“MPs must have the power to scrutinise, to debate, and if necessary to reject a deal that would leave working people worse off.”

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