Theresa May has refused to commit to giving MPs a vote on her Brexit strategy before triggering the process of leaving the European Union - despite allowing Tories to back a Labour call for “proper scrutiny” of the plan.
The pound rallied on Wednesday after Mrs May moved to see off a Tory rebellion by allowing her MPs to back a Labour motion which calls for “full and transparent debate” on the Brexit plan and “proper scrutiny” of it before exit proceedings begin.
But crucially, the motion does not call for a vote on the strategy before Article 50 of the EU treaties is triggered by the end of March, and is not binding on ministers as it is being brought forward in an Opposition Day debate.
The Prime Minister was therefore able to insist her position has not changed, while allowing disgruntled Tories who want a vote to back the Labour motion without rebelling, by voting for a Government amendment which simply adds caveats.
Mrs May is facing growing calls to allow MPs a vote on the Brexit plan, with Tory former attorney general Dominic Grieve warning that the Government was likely to fall if it attempted to push a deal through without the approval of the Commons.
Pro-Leave Conservative backbencher Stephen Phillips has also pressured the PM, insisting the use of prerogative powers to push a deal through without parliamentary approval would amount to “tyranny”.
But asked at Prime Minister’s Questions by Labour MP Angela Eagle if her move would mean a Commons vote before invoking Article 50, Mrs May replied: “The idea that Parliament somehow wasn’t going to be able to discuss, debate, question issues around (Brexit) was frankly completely wrong.
“Let me give you some examples - first of all the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has already made two statements in this House, I believe four hours of questions followed from those.
“A new select committee has been set up which crucially includes representatives from all parts of the United Kingdom, which will be looking at these issues.
“And only just over a week ago, I announced there would be a Great Repeal Bill in the next session of Parliament to repeal the European Communities Act.
“So Parliament’s going to have every opportunity to debate this issue.”
Labour is not expected to oppose the Government’s amendment in the Commons, although other MPs could call a symbolic vote.
But a source said: “There’s a cross-party head of steam building on Parliament having a vote on Brexit down the track - this issue is going to run.”
Describing Mrs May’s amendment as a “smokescreen”, the source said the Government was forced into action because it knew it could not win a vote against Labour on the issue of parliamentary scrutiny.
But Mrs May’s official spokeswoman insisted the Government will decide when to trigger Article 50 and that Parliament will be given scrutiny without being able to “thwart the will of the British people” or undermine ministers’ negotiating position.
At PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn said Mrs May was pursuing “shambolic Tory Brexit” to appease her backbenchers.
The Labour leader said the Government offers “no strategy for negotiating Brexit and offers no clarity, no transparency and no chance of scrutiny of the process for developing a strategy”.
Asked whether Mr Corbyn believed MPs would be given a vote on Mrs May’s negotiating stance, the Labour leader’s spokesman told reporters: “The Government has already U-turned today and I think the pressure is clearly growing for proper accountability over what this Government’s negotiating position is on Brexit.
“As Jeremy said in the House today, Labour completely accepts and recognises the vote to leave the EU. The question is what is the agenda for that process and that needs to be held to account in Parliament now and that means it needs to be open to a vote.”
Labour also challenged the Government to answer 170 in-depth questions on the detail of its Brexit plan - one for every day until the end of March deadline for triggering Article 50.
A failure to respond would reinforce a perception that ministers are “blundering” into negotiations with the EU on an artificial timetable with a “flawed Plan A” and “no Plan B whatsoever”, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said.