Sunday

24th Mar 2019

British PM limps to EU capital after Brexit defeat

  • Both Tory rebels and Northern Irish unionists highlighted May's weakness in recent days (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

British MPs have won the right to reject the UK's final Brexit deal in a vote that highlighted prime minister Theresa May's fragile authority.

The amendment to the EU withdrawal bill passed by 309 votes to 305 after an ill-tempered debate in the British parliament on Wednesday (13 December).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The 24-word text says the government can only make "provision" for "implementing the withdrawal agreement" after if it is "subject to the prior enactment of a statute by parliament approving the final terms of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union".

It means MPs will be able to veto a deal they do not agree with and to delay or halt the Brexit process if negotiations end with no EU deal at all.

Dominic Grieve, an MP from May's own Conservative Party and a former UK attorney general, who tabled the amendment, invoked the party's iconic WWII-era leader, Winston Churchill, on his side in a speech in parliament.

"There's a time for everybody to stand up and be counted. As Churchill said: 'He's a good party man, he puts the party before himself and the country before his party'," Grieve said.

He said the original form of the bill, allowing May to bypass parliament, amounted to "a form of constitutional chaos".

He later told the BBC that: "The right thing is carrying out Brexit in an orderly, sensible way, which has a proper process."

Grieve was one of 11 Tory rebels who voted against the government.

Anna Soubry, another rebel, said she was proud of being a "bloody difficult" woman, echoing May's own words on her handling of Brexit talks.

Soubry also told The Guardian, a British newspaper, that: "Most of the so-called 'mutineers' are lawyers. We understand the importance of statute".

A May spokesman told press she was "disappointed" by the outcome, but hinted that Grieve's amendment could still be taken out in future deliberations on the EU withdrawal bill.

"This amendment does not prevent us from preparing our statute book for exit day. We will now determine whether further changes are needed to the bill to ensure it fulfils its vital purpose," the spokesman said.

"We are as clear as ever that this bill, and the powers within it, are essential," the spokesman added.

Fragile PM

Wednesday's defeat underlined May's fragile grip on power one day before she was to meet EU leaders at a summit in Brussels.

She has no majority in parliament, having lost it in a snap election she called earlier this year under the slogan of a "strong and stable" government, and relies on the hardline Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland for support.

"This defeat is a humiliating loss of authority for the government on the eve of the European Council meeting," Jeremy Corbyn, the head of the opposition Labour party, said after Wednesday's outcome.

"May has resisted democratic accountability. Her refusal to listen means she will now have to accept parliament taking back control," he added.

Nadine Dorries, a loyalist Tory MP, echoed his appraisal.

"Tonight, the Tory rebels have put a spring in Labour's step, given them a taste of winning, guaranteed the party a weekend of bad press, undermined the PM, and devalued her impact in Brussels," she said.

The six-hour debate that preceded the vote was marked by jeers, insults, and accusations that anti-Brexit MPs were trying to overturn the result of the British referendum.

Fraying tempers

Dorries said the party rebels should never again be allowed to run as Tory MPs.

Philip Hammond, the British chancellor, physically steered one former rebel MP, Vicky Ford, into the chamber to vote on May's side.

The party also sacked Stephen Hammond, one of the group-of-11, from his post as deputy-chairman immediately after the result was in.

The turbulence in London will not stop EU leaders from declaring on Friday that there was "sufficient progress" on Brexit divorce talks to start phase two of the negotiations - on trade and on transition arrangements.

The deal on "progress" almost fell by the wayside last week when the DUP initially vetoed an agreement on the Irish border.

May's authority will be tested again next week in a British parliament vote to set in stone the exit date of 29 March 2019 - a move that is also opposed by Grieve and fellow Tory malcontents.

Analysis

What are the key points of the Brexit deal?

Here is a brief summary of the main points of the 'joint report', the outline of the Brexit divorce deal reached on Friday morning - and what still lies ahead.

May tosses Brexit spanner into EU machinery

The UK is seeking a three-month delay to leave in the European Union. But its 30 June deadline is a major headache given the European elections in May. The European Commission is demanding EU summit leaders reject May's proposal.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Feature

'Swexit' off menu at election for first time in 24 years

The Swedish Left Party have abandoned euroscepticism to campaign on climate change - whilst the hard-right Sweden Democrats spy possibilities of a link up with Matteo Salvini of Italy and France's Marine Le Pen.

Opinion

Brexit vs Grexit: The six stages of losing to the EU

Theresa May's venture seems very similar to the attempt by Alexis Tsipras in 2015 to persuade Brussels to accept his terms for the bail out - a huge negotiation failure, presented to the public as the best possible deal.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us