Tory Rebels Seek Compromise After May Suffers Lords Defeat

(Bloomberg) -- Anti-Brexit lawmakers pushing for more power over the divorce process will meet government officials on Tuesday, as the government tries to head off a potentially humiliating defeat in Parliament.

Prime Minister Theresa May won’t be offering more concessions, a person familiar with its position said, and a spokesman said the government couldn’t accept what the rebel lawmakers want. But Dominic Grieve, the leader of the group that’s trying to ensure Britain maintains close ties to the bloc after Brexit, said a compromise was possible after the House of Lords defeated the government on Monday.

Tory Rebels Seek Compromise After May Suffers Lords Defeat

The vote in the Lords sets up a knife-edge vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday over an amendment that would give Parliament the power to stop a messy no-deal Brexit.

“At the moment, I’m very much hopeful that the government will listen to what’s come back from the Lords and that we may be able to achieve some sort of sensible compromise. The difference between us is not very great, but it is a significant difference,” Grieve, a former Attorney General, told BBC Radio on Tuesday.

Lawmakers in the unelected upper house on Monday backed an amendment to ensure a “meaningful vote” for Parliament on any Brexit deal agreed with the European Union -- or on what to do if there’s no deal -- by 354 votes to 235 votes.

While some rebels are keeping a low profile, others were clear they would vote against the government on Wednesday so that Parliament -- which wants to keep closer ties to the bloc than the government does -- will have more say of the final phase of talks.

“I will be voting for that same amendment in the House of Commons and urge all my colleagues to do likewise,” Phillip Lee, who quit as a minister last week to be able to vote against May, said on Twitter after Monday’s vote. “MPs can’t stand up for the people they are elected to represent unless Parliament has a voice.”

The amendment approved in the House of Lords on Monday was based on an agreement that Grieve said he had reached in talks with Solicitor General Robert Buckland last Thursday, only for ministers to introduce changes at the last minute which Grieve said were “unacceptable.”

“Ministers, the prime minister in particular, have promised a meaningful vote, that promise has not been honored,” former minister Douglas Hogg, who said he had been in talks with Grieve since last week, told lawmakers as he introduced the amendment. “If your lordships want Parliament to have a meaningful vote, Parliament must insist.”

Brexit-backers oppose the amendment as they say it strips the government of negotiating leverage if it can’t walk away, and they also think its proponents are trying to reverse the divorce.

“The meaningful vote is nothing to do with holding the government to account,” Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads a grouping of Anti-EU Conservative lawmakers, said after a speech in central London. “The meaningful vote is a means to obstruct Brexit.”

Tory Rebels Seek Compromise After May Suffers Lords Defeat

The amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill would ensure an amendable motion would be put before Parliament after an agreement was reached with the EU, allowing lawmakers to reject the deal and take control of the process. The government favors a motion that can’t be amended, as that reduces lawmakers’ clout.

Alongside the number of Tory rebels, the chances of the amendment being passed in the House of Commons will also depend on how solid support is from the opposition Labour Party. It is divided on Brexit, with some lawmakers fearing a backlash from districts that voted to leave the EU if they are seen to disrupt the divorce.

“If the Prime Minister’s final Brexit deal is voted down, that cannot give her licence to crash the U.K. out of the EU without an agreement,” Labour’s Brexit spokesman Matthew Pennycook said in a statement. “MPs now face a decisive vote to guarantee Parliament has a proper role in the Brexit negotiations and to take the threat of no deal off the table once and for all.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.