Government defeated heavily in Lords on ‘meaningful’ Brexit vote

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The Government has suffered a heavy defeat in the Lords over giving MPs a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal.

The to-and-fro over Parliament’s role as the UK leaves the EU will move back to the Commons after peers voted on Monday in favour of an amendment tabled by Viscount Hailsham.

Viscount Hailsham speaking in the Lords debate on the EU withdrawl bill. Picture: Parliament TV

Viscount Hailsham speaking in the Lords debate on the EU withdrawl bill. Picture: Parliament TV

The change to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, described by the former Tory minister as “Grieve 2”, would require the Government to allow MPs to vote on how it would proceed in the absence of a Brexit deal by January 21 next year.

It came after former attorney general Dominic Grieve warned that the Tory rebels he leads could “collapse” the Government if they disagree with the final outcome of withdrawal talks, and had the right to a proper say on Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May has warned against any moves to “tie her hands” during negotiations with Brussels, saying on Monday that Parliament must not be able to “overturn the will of the British people”.

The Prime Minister said she had been listening to the concerns of critics but the legislation must not restrict her freedom in talks with Brussels.

READ MORE: Lord Sewel: Brexit legislation is ‘not a power grab’

“As we keep faith with people who voted to leave the European Union, and many of those who didn’t but are now saying ‘let’s just get on with it’, we need to make sure we are putting this legislation into place,” she said.

“But as we do that, of course we have been listening to concerns about the role of Parliament, but we need to make sure that Parliament can’t tie the Government’s hands in negotiation and can’t overturn the will of the British people.”

Under Government plans, 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 to vote on a “neutral motion” stating it has considered a minister’s statement on the issue.

Crucially, the motion will be unamendable, meaning 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.

Peers voted by 354 to 235, majority 119, to approve the amendment, which is due to return to the Commons on Wednesday.

Mr Grieve insisted rebels would only accept a “meaningful vote” and not the “slavery clause” the Government was offering.

Lord Hailsham said that Mr Grieve, who watched the Brexit Bill debate at the bar of the Lords, believed he had made an agreement with the Solicitor General last week but it appeared “senior ministers” had objected to it and it had now been “repudiated”.

The peer said he was asking the Lords to allow MPs to vote on what Mr Grieve believed was agreed with the Government.

He added: “The Government’s amendment not only fails to deliver the promised meaningful vote.

“That would be an act of omission and bad enough.

“But this is far worse.

“The Government is seeking to make the promised meaningful vote impossible and that is an act of commission contrary to what ministers have promised.”