PM May Faces Another Rebellion by Pro-EU Tories: Brexit Update
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. government faces another showdown with pro-EU Tory rebels over whether Parliament should be able to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
Government Faces Another Showdown (7:30 pm.)
After a week of high drama and negotiations plagued by suspicions, May is set to face another knife-edge vote in Parliament next week over how much power lawmakers should have over the final stages of Brexit.
The fight is between the government and rebels in the Conservative who want to maintain close ties to Europe and want to prevent negotiators from walking away without a divorce deal -- a scenario businesses see as worst-case chaos. The government can’t give in to the pro-EU rebels because euroskeptic hardliners on the other side of the Conservative Party want Theresa May to be able to walk off into legal limbo -- or at least be able to threaten to as a negotiating tool. They suspect that if Parliament gets more power over Brexit, it will keep ties to Europe so tight that the divorce was meaningless.
At stake is May’s career -- her position looks perilous -- the sustainability of the minority government, and the U.K.’s future relationship with its biggest trading partner.
Government Sticking With Its Proposal (6:57 p.m.)
The government isn’t planning to hold more talks with the rebels and thinks its new amendment will be enough to satisfy some more moderate pro-EU rebels, according to two people familiar with the government’s position.
Meanwhile, the hardline pro-Brexit group led by Jacob Rees-Mogg is taking the view that it can live with the new amendment. The Brexit Department -- led by pro-Brexit minister David Davis -- also said the new amendment met his conditions.
Altmann: Rebels to Push for Full Grieve Amendment (6:37 p.m.)
Pro-European Conservative peer Ros Altmann said the government’s proposal doesn’t give Parliament a meaningful vote on Brexit, and therefore breaks the promise given to the rebels.
She said their plan now is to let the upper House of Lords vote on (and pass) an amendment drafted by rebel leader Dominic Grieve that would give Parliament huge sway in the final stages of Brexit. “It will then pass back to the House of Commons and will then pass there,” she said.
“Had Dominic’s amendment been put before the House of Commons on Tuesday, it would have passed. The fact it isn’t already in the Bill is because the Prime Minister gave her word,” she said.
Meanwhile, the main opposition Labour Party indicated it would support the rebels.
“The Government’s amendment is simply not good enough,” Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said. “Theresa May has gone back on her word and offered an amendment that takes the meaning out of the meaningful vote. Parliament cannot -- and should not -- accept it.”
What’s at stake here is how much power Parliament has to prevent a no-deal Brexit -- the chaotic worst-case scenario businesses fear most.
Tory Rebels Cry Foul... (5:43 p.m.)
The agreed amendment “acquired a sneaky sting in the tail,” Tory lawmaker Sarah Wollaston says on Twitter. “What a time to be alive...”
Then: “Would be funny if only it wasn’t such a serious issue, Preventing the most destructive Brexit matters to the majority in Parliament.”
Government Faces Another Rebellion as Talks Fail (5:40 p.m.)
The government is set for another showdown with pro-EU Conservative lawmakers, after it proposed an amendment to its Brexit bill that fell short of what the rebels demanded -- and what they say was promised.
The rebels had thought they had a deal on the wording of an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which would have given them power to stop Britain tumbling out of the bloc without a divorce agreement. A person familiar with the negotiations said pro-Brexit Tories had forced May to change the agreed text.
“I’m grateful to the government for its engagement and for listening to its backbenchers, but the fact is it’s going to have to be amended,” rebel leader Dominic Grieve says. “In its current form it will not do what we were seeking, and what we understood that we would be able to get.”
The pro-EU camp had already dashed to the House of Lords to propose Grieve’s original amendment (the one they were set to vote for earlier this week before May’s last-minute promise of concessions). That sets up another fight next week, when peers will vote.
It’s important to remember that this is just the warring factions on the British side -- Brussels is still waiting to negotiate May’s final position, whatever that may be.
Rebels Take Steps to Avoid Betrayal (4:40 p.m.)
Pro-EU Tories have played their best card, as a deal with the government that they thought was wrapped up appeared to unravel.
The pro-EU camp has dashed to the House of Lords to propose the amendment that the rebels were set to vote for earlier this week before May’s last-minute promise of concessions. This is the rebels’ way of making sure that if the government reneges on its offer, Parliament will have another chance to make their amendment law.
The government has said it will publish the agreement by 5 p.m. The actual deadline to send the new text of the agreed amendment to the Lords is midday Friday.
Rebels and May hit a problem (4:18 p.m.)
There are signs that the two sides have stumbled into a problem. Conservative rebels are seeking an insurance policy, in case the government reneges on its promises to give lawmakers more power to influence the course of Brexit, a person familiar with the matter said.
Their tool is to get a pro-EU member of the House of Lords to propose Grieve’s original amendment in the upper house. The rebels went into talks with May’s officials saying this was the ace up their sleeve.
Government to Publish Amendment Before 5 p.m. (3:59 p.m.)
The government continues to decline to comment on the contents of the agreement and says it will be published before 5 p.m. in London. Two people familiar said it hasn’t yet been agreed.
Rebels Say They Won Power to Prevent No-Deal (3:24 p.m.)
The details are still partial and the document hasn’t yet been published. But rebel lawmakers say they are happy with the agreement and they think it does give them the power to stop the government walking away from the EU without a deal.
May’s office hasn’t yet given its version of the agreement.
“I am delighted we have reached an agreement with the government,” says Tory lawmaker Stephen Hammond. “Parliament will have a vote if no deal is possible, either when that occurs or by Feb. 15. The intention was never to bind the prime minister’s hand. The intention was always to secure a vote for parliament in the event of no deal -- and this has been secured.”
May has said that no deal is better than a bad deal. And many pro-Brexit Tories, including some ministers, are dismayed that she hasn’t done more to prepare the country for the possibility of crashing out without agreement.
Some of the most ardent Tory euroskeptics -- again including ministers -- say there is nothing to fear from doing so.
But there is a majority in Parliament for maintaining closer ties to the EU, a softer Brexit than the government is pursuing.
“Dominic Grieve should be hailed a hero for what he has achieved for democracy,” rebel Tory lawmaker Anna Soubry says on Twitter. “Deal or no deal Parliament will have a meaningful vote and to be clear there will be no hard #Brexit when the EUWithdrawal Bill is passed.”
Mid-February Deadline (2:47 p.m.)
The full details of the amendment haven’t been published. But one person familiar with the discussions said that if no Brexit deal has been reached by mid-February, then Parliament will get a vote on the way ahead.
Deal Done (2:32 p.m.)
The prime minister is said to have agreed a deal with rebels in her Tory party over the “meaningful vote” clause in the EU Withdrawal Bill, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. The agreement comes after a tense round of horse trading.
On Tuesday, May averted a potentially devastating defeat by convincing the group -- who were prepared to vote her down -- to discuss new wording of what it would take for Parliament to grab control of the Brexit process.
Almost There (1:30 p.m.)
May and the group of pro-EU rebels --who agreed not to vote against her on Tuesday in order to change the wording on the amendment -- are said to be close to a deal, according to a person familiar with the negotiations between the two sides.
MP: May Won’t Survive Rejection of Final EU Deal (12:27 p.m.)
As the government tries to draft a legislative amendment on whether Parliament should get a veto over the government’s Brexit deal, and what powers it should have after that, one Tory lawmaker is arguing the question is irrelevant.
Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told Sky News that if the vote on a deal were to be lost, “frankly there is going to be a new government.”
This is an argument that’s privately made by government officials, that it would be impossible for May to stay in place if the deal she reaches with Brussels were voted down. And to some extent it’s one also accepted by leading Tory rebel Dominic Grieve.
But Grieve says these are the circumstances he wants to avoid: a deal voted down with weeks to go until Britain leaves the EU, the prime minister resigning, and the governing party unable to agree what its policy is.
Dealing with this in an “ad hoc way,” he said on Tuesday, would be “infinitely more damaging” than establishing a procedure now.
Davis: New Amendment to Be Published Today (10:29 a.m.)
Davis says the Brexit compromise amendment being negotiated with Tory rebels, including Dominic Grieve, on the so-called meaningful vote will be published later today. Asked if it will give Parliament control in the event lawmakers reject the final Brexit deal, Davis tells him to “wait and see.”
The rebels thought they might reach agreement on the amendment last night, but this morning said they were still waiting.
Baker: Preparation for No Deal to Be More Visible (10:11 a.m.)
“Over the coming weeks and months, our preparations for what is an unwanted contingency will become increasingly clear,” Brexit Minister Steve Baker tells lawmakers. But he also says he’s increasingly confident of the U.K. getting a good Brexit deal.
Davis Says Parliament Can’t Instruct Negotiations (9:52 a.m.)
Davis says the government cannot accept amendments to Brexit bill that allow Parliament to instruct it on steps to take in an international negotiation. This would be “constitutionally unprecedented,” he says.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.