MPs vote to further bind Theresa May's hands on Brexit

Pablo Tucker
January 10, 2019

With less than three months before Britain is due to quit the European Union, parliament began a five-day battle over May's Brexit plan with a show of force - undermining her preferred timetable if lawmakers vote down her blueprint next Tuesday.

After a two week Christmas recess, United Kingdom parliamentarians resumed hostilities on Brexit, with 20 Conservative MPs joining forces with the opposition Labour party and supporting an amendment to the May government's Finance Bill demanding that a "no deal" Brexit be ruled out.

308 MPs voted for - compared to 297 MPs who voted against - an amendment made by Remainer Tory MP Dominic Grieve, requiring the Government to set out its alternative suggestion no more than three days after a defeat in the "meaningful vote".

"The prime minister will be updating parliament tomorrow and she will be talking about the clarifications, the reassurances that parliament is seeking that the backstop will not be permanent".

The House of Commons voted to reduce the time the government has to outline a "plan B" from 21 days to three if, as expected, lawmakers reject the Brexit agreement in a vote on Tuesday.

May postponed an initial vote last month in the face of opposition from all sides of the House of Commons, but has now set it for next Tuesday evening after 1900 GMT, following five days of debate which start on Wednesday.

Several MPs challenged the Speaker with points of order, with Tory Brexiteer Peter Bone asking for an explanation as to why, when he had attempted to propose an amendment to the same motion, he had been refused by the Table Office, saying "I was told it would be totally out of order and there would be no other amendments filed".

The Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom said there were "some concerns" about his decision and asked him to confirm it was taken with "full advice" from the Commons clerk Sir David Natzler.

Now, a group of MPs from all parties has won backing for a pair of motions that severely limit Ms.

Labour MPs, and even some Tories, defended the Speaker.

He said he had consulted the clerks and the advice would remain private.

Outlining his decision to select the amendment, Mr Bercow said: "My understanding is the motion is amendable, I'm clear in my mind about that". I'm sorry but there is a distinction between a motion and an amendment.

Attempting to explain himself, the Speaker said: "The adjective simply summed up how I felt about the way the day's business had been conducted".

At a speech in Wakefield on Thursday, the Labour leader is to argue that if May is unable to get her flagship piece of legislation past MPs next week then her government will have lost all authority, meaning an election is urgently needed.

Bercow himself seemed to acknowledge the move was highly unorthodox, telling MPs: "If we only went by precedent, manifestly nothing would ever change".

But he said that, coupled with a new pledge of a "strong role" for the Stormont Assembly in the operation of the backstop, it marked a "welcome step forward" towards building support for Mrs May's deal.

A top European parliamentarian urged British lawmakers to show "responsibility" over the divorce deal. Labour's spokesman earlier said the party was not seeking an extension to Article 50. Ken Clarke, a former Tory cabinet minister, said Bercow was allowing the Commons to express itself.

"I disagree with that, and so I think do the vast majority of members of parliament".

The other 27 European Union leaders have repeatedly said they will not reopen the deal struck with Britain in November, which covers key separation issues such as money and expatriate citizens' rights.

On Tuesday evening, Mrs May lost a vote on an amendment to a finance bill, which was created to limit the government's powers in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Its objective was to prove there was a parliamentary majority to oppose no deal, and the cross-party group of rebels who organised Tuesday's defeat said they could seek to amend any and every piece of legislation the government brings to parliament between now and March.

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