Angry senior Tories round on Theresa May over 'astonishing' U-turn on meaningful Brexit vote

MPs will only be allowed to accept or reject the agreement, with no amendments allowed – despite previous promises

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 18 October 2018 11:00
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Brexit Minister Steve Baker says Parliament 'can make amendments' to final deal

Angry senior Tories have accused Theresa May of going back on her pledge to allow a proper “meaningful vote” on any Brexit deal and vowed to fight the move.

Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve spoke out after the government said MPs should only be allowed to accept or reject the agreement – with no amendments allowed.

The stance appears a clear U-turn on a pledge – revealed by The Independent – that the vote would not be a “take-it-or-leave-it” choice, because “parliament can always seek to amend motions”.

In April, then-Brexit minister Steve Baker suggested MPs would be able to bring forward an amendment requiring a fresh referendum on the outcome of the talks.

Dominic Grieve, the former Conservative attorney general, said he was “astonished” by the switch, revealed by Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, in a letter to the Commons procedure committee.

“It’s about honesty, because one way of reading this is to suggest that the government is trying to renege on clear assurances that were given at the time,” he said.

Ken Clarke, the former chancellor, said the government “got defeated the last time” they tried to restrict the meaningful vote, adding: “They won’t get away with it. Parliament is going to insist on using its proper authority.”

And Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, said: “Labour doesn’t accept that the choice facing parliament will be between whatever deal Theresa May cobbles together or no deal.

“That is not a meaningful vote and Ministers can’t be allowed to silence parliament. MPs must be given the opportunity to scrutinise, consider and, where appropriate, amend any resolution the government puts forward.”

The controversy comes as hundreds of thousands of people prepare to march in central London this Saturday to demand a People’s Vote referendum.

The Independent has been running its own Final Say campaign to demand the referendum, with more than 860,000 people having signed its petition so far.

In April, asked whether the motion on the Brexit deal “would be amendable”, Mr Baker replied: “I believe the position is that parliament can always seek to amend motions.”

And he suggested MPs would be able to impose a referendum, or seek to change the nature of the deal, which might send the prime minister back to the negotiating table.

“Clearly, the range of amendments that is possible is within the bounds of the imagination of all members of parliament,” Mr Baker told the committee.

But, in his letter, Mr Raab “Once the deal is presented to parliament, the procedure through which it is voted upon must allow for an unequivocal decision, and one which is clear to the British public.”

A six-page memorandum suggested amendments would only be accepted if the main motion passed first. If the motion fell, the amendments might only be considered “points of view”.

The letter also warned: “Amendments – even those which may not intend to affect approval – may actually result in the government being unable to ratify the withdrawal agreement.

“It is important, however, to recognise the need ultimately for the House to consider the question that is in reality before the UK – whether or not to accept the deal that the government has negotiated with the EU.”

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