Theresa May hints at further Brexit bill U-turns while defending right of MPs to oppose her

‘There is, of course, a lively debate going on in this place, and that’s right and proper,’ Prime Minister says after ‘mutineers’ front page

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 15 November 2017 14:37 GMT
Theresa May asked about Brexit scrutiny in light of Telegraph 'mutineer' front page

Theresa May has hinted at further U-turns on the Brexit legislation, as she defended the right of MPs to oppose her in a “lively debate”.

The Prime Minister told the Commons she was “listening carefully to those who wish to improve the bill”, as a further, damaging Conservative revolt brews.

Around 15 backbench Tories are threatening to rebel on her plan to enshrine a precise Brexit date in British law, fearing it increases the risk of a disastrous no-deal exit.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Ms May defended the right of those MPs to challenge her on the issue, after they were branded “mutineers” on the front page of The Daily Telegraph.

“There is, of course, a lively debate going on in this place, and that’s right and proper and that’s important,” she said.

The Prime Minister went on to suggest further climbdowns loom, adding: “What we are doing, as a Government, is listening to the contributions that are being made

“We are listening carefully to those who wish to improve the bill. I hope we can all come together to deliver on the decision that the country took that we should leave the European Union.”

The comments come as pro-EU backbenchers put pressure on No 10 to rewrite the proposal or face a humiliating defeat in a vote expected in early December.

They fear putting the date – 11pm on 29 March 2019 – on the statute book will make it impossible for Parliament to force a delay, to prevent a no-deal exit, if the talks fail to achieve a breakthrough.

Significantly, the potential rebels are the same Conservative MPs who forced the Government to agree to separate – amendable – legislation to implement any exit agreement, in Monday’s climbdown.

Ministers face another tough battle as early as Tuesday, when a group of Tories could vote against Ms May’s refusal to put the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph’s decision to plaster pictures of Conservative rebels on its front page – under the headline “The Brexit Mutineers” – has provoked a backlash.

They include three former cabinet ministers, other ex-frontbenchers and the heads of the Commons Foreign Affairs and Health select committees.

One of the group, backbencher Heidi Allen, tweeted: “If fighting for the best possible future for our country and our Government is considered mutiny – then bring it on.”

Asked if it was MPs’ “duty to scrutinise that legislation, debate and consider amendments”, the Prime Minister replied that was “right”.

The question came from Paul Masterton, one of 15 Conservatives pictured on The Telegraph’s front page – who was cheered as he asked it.

Meanwhile, the Speaker warned Brexit Secretary David Davis that he is running out of time to ensure the controversial Brexit impact assessments are published.

MPs have approved a parliamentary motion which demanded the Government release the studies, but ministers warned that would take three weeks.

John Bercow made clear the motion was “effective and binding”, adding: “I’m very focused on that matter in the interests of the House as a whole ... it will not be let go.”

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