Theresa May is facing the biggest parliamentary bust-up yet on her flagship Brexit legislation after a compromise designed to keep critics in her own party on board was denounced as “unacceptable” by Tory Remainers.
The move was branded “sneaky” by one backbencher while another senior pro-EU Tory said the wording of a Government amendment was changed at the last minute to deny MPs the chance of blocking a “no deal” Brexit.
Peers are to vote on Monday on a proposal to give MPs the power to dictate the Government’s response if it fails to reach a deal with Brussels as a potentially bloody round of “parliamentary ping-pong” gets under way.
Mrs May avoided almost certain defeat in the House of Commons on Tuesday by inviting potential rebels into her private office and assuring them that their concerns about having a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal would be addressed.
However, the amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill tabled on Thursday leaves Parliament facing a “deal or no deal” choice.
If MPs reject the agreement reached by Mrs May with Brussels – or if no deal has been obtained by January 21 – Parliament will be offered the opportunity only to vote on a “neutral motion” stating that it has considered a minister’s statement on the issue.
Crucially, the motion will be unamendable, meaning that MPs cannot insert a requirement for Mrs May to go back to the negotiating table, extend the Brexit transition or revoke the UK’s withdrawal under Article 50.
Leading pro-EU Conservative Dominic Grieve told the Press Association: “It is unacceptable in my view. It is not in accordance with the normal procedures of the House of Commons and it totally negates the point of the amendment, which was to give MPs a say.”
Mr Grieve indicated the final text of the amendment tabled by ministers on Thursday been changed from the wording which he believed had been agreed earlier in the day.
Mr Grieve told PA: “After what had been a very sensible negotiation, I thought we had an agreement, and at the last moment part of the text was changed to make the final motion unamendable if there isn’t a deal by the end of January 21.
“I think it is unacceptable because it seems to me to be contrary to what the whole intention was behind this whole amendment.”