Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a humiliating defeat for her key Brexit law on Wednesday after pro-European members of her own party openly defied her orders in a vote in Parliament. The vote in the UK Parliament was described as being “knife-edge” with the BBC’s chief political correspondent, Norman Smith, called it a “Big Bananas moment” for May. In the end, May lost by a narrow margin, with 309 voting for and 305 against, and as a result, UK members of parliament - not Theresa May and her Cabinet - will have the final say on Brexit.
MPs had been asked to vote on the following amendment:
The final deal with the EU must be approved by a law passed by Parliament.
The results of the vote were as follows: Yes: 309 No: 305 Majority: 4
According to Sky News, 12-13 Conservative MPs voted against the government with 2 Labour MPs voted with the government, and “while this won't derail the Brexit deal it is a sign of UK Prime Minister May's increasingly strained position" Citi explained after the vote.
Some more media reactions, first the Telegraph:
Theresa May has suffered her first major Commons defeat after Tory rebels defeated Government and voted for an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. MPs have voted in favour of Parliament being given a meaningful vote on the terms of Brexit by 309 votes to 305. In a damaging blow to her already diminished authority, Tory rebels rallied around Former attorney general Dominic Grieve to back his attempt to ensure MPs have a "meaningful vote" on the withdrawal deal. A dramatic last-minute concession by justice minister Dominic Raab was dismissed as "too late" by Mr Grieve, whose amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill squeezed through the Commons on a majority of four amid tense scenes in the chamber.
The irony is that the humiliating vote came just days after she reached what was dubbed a successful divorce settlement deal with the EU and Ireland, only to betrayed by members of her own party. Her choice was either to give in to demands from rebel MPs in her own party, who wanted the power to vote on any final Brexit deal, or face a damaging defeat when her refusal was debated by parliament. She didn’t give in, and enough MPs from her party voted against her government.
Prior to the vote, Bloomberg noted that "If May loses a vote on the amendment on Wednesday, she could try to overturn it in later stages of the bill’s progress through Parliament. The bill must complete up to eight further parliamentary stages of scrutiny before it becomes law."
So, there’s still a long way to go for the EU Withdrawal Bill, but a (further) weakened UK Prime Minister will head back to Brussels tomorrow where she will initiate the talks on the future trade relationship between Britain and the EU.
The so-called “meaningful vote” amendment was drawn up by Conservative MP and former attorney general, Dominic Grieve.
In a joint statement on Saturday, MPs from the Conservative Party, as well as the opposition Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru signed a joint statement backing the call for Parliament to be given a veto on the final Brexit treaty. In adddition, more than 10,000 supporters of the Open Britain campaign also emailed their local MPs urging them to support Grieve’s amendment number seven to the EU Withdrawal Bill. Some polls also suggested that a majority of British people backed the proposal.
There had been signs in the run-up to the vote that May’s team was open to making concessions. Earlier in the week, May accepted another proposal to change the draft law in the face of criticism from her colleagues. Yesterday, May’s spokesman, James Slack, said.
"We are listening to members of Parliament, we are having conversations with them. Where they think legislation can be improved we are prepared to take that on board.”
Dominic Grieve had indicated that he was not prepared to back down and without his amendment, the EU Withdrawal bill would unleash “a form of constitutional chaos” by allowing ministers to bypass parliamentary scrutiny. Reporting on his speech in parliament today, The Guardian reported.
He said he had sought at all times to engage with ministers to find a compromise, but without success: “The blunt reality is, and I’m sorry to have to say this to the house, I’ve been left in the lurch, as a backbench member trying to improve this legislation.” In these circumstances, Grieve said, he felt obliged to vote in favour of his amendment, and if that did not pass, to vote against the government on the wider bill.
“But that having been said there’s a time for everybody to stand up and be counted. As Churchill said, he’s a good party man, and he puts the party before himself and the country before his party. And that’s what I intend to do.”
Grieve’s sentiment was echoed by Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, who said that "nobody voted in the referendum for our parliamentary democracy to be undermined. We need scrutiny on Brexit, not a blank check for government ministers."
The theme of parliamentary democracy was picked up before the vote by the BBC’s chief political correspondent, Norman Smith.
I'm guessing everyone's a bit jaded with the endless Brexit rows and threats of revolts. But this one really does matter. This is the Big Bananas moment. And on that both sides seem to agree. It's not a minor, footling technical issue – it’s about who's running the show, Parliament or the prime minister.
Brexiteers view tonight's vote as an attempt by refusenik Remainers to de-rail Brexit. And, privately, some hard line Remainers see it as a means to fundamentally change the terms of the UK's departure from the EU. Other rebels argue it's about making good the Brexiteers promise to "take back control' to the UK Parliament.
But it’s also a Big Bananas moment for Theresa May. Defeat in the Commons - and it would be her first - would knock her premiership back on the ropes after she had bounced back with last week's deal in Brussels. It would also dent her authority in the Brexit negotiations with EU leaders, who would again question her ability to deliver a deal.
While it is unclear if today's vote dooms Brexit, judging by the market's euphoric reaction which has sent cable surging to session highs, traders are increasingly confident that the entire process may be halted, if not unwound sooner rather than later.