24th Mar 2018

May defeats plan to give MPs Brexit veto

  • The bill is timetabled to be signed into law on 13 March, giving May time to keep to her self-imposed deadline of formally triggering Article 50 before the end of March. (Photo: UK Parliament/flickr)

UK MPs will get a "take it or leave it vote" at the end of Article 50 talks with the EU, but Theresa May’s government defeated an attempt by opposition MPs to ensure that parliament gets an effective veto over Brexit.

Under the deal offered by the May government on Tuesday (7 February), MPs will get a vote on any deal struck with EU negotiators during the Article 50 process, to take place before any Brexit agreement was voted on by the European Parliament.

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This initially seemed like a significant concession when it was announced by Brexit minister David Jones at the start of four hours of the second day of debate on the Article 50 bill, but it isn’t.

If parliament rejects the deal, the UK will leave the EU anyway and would fall back to trading with the bloc on the basis of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

"This will be a meaningful vote," Jones told MPs, adding that it would "be the choice of leaving the EU with a negotiated deal or not".

“The vote they’re offering – which will give MPs a choice between an extreme Brexit and falling off a cliff edge into WTO trade rules – isn’t a concession, it’s an ultimatum,” said Caroline Lucas MP, co-leader of the Green Party.

“MPs must not be duped by the government’s attempt to quell unrest on their back-benches.”

Out voted

MPs also voted by a majority of 33 against an amendment proposed by Labour MP Chris Leslie that would have stopped ministers striking a Brexit agreement until it had been passed by MPs and peers.

Seven Conservative MPs voted with Labour. The amendment was seen as a means of keeping alive the slim prospect of the UK remaining in the EU.

A Labour proposal which would have forced the government to publish impact assessments of the different potential trading models with the EU, indicating the likely economic effects of leaving the single market or customs union, was also defeated.

The government faces a potentially close vote on an amendment calling for the rights of EU nationals living in the UK to be guaranteed, but it is highly probable that the bill will be passed without any of the 287 amendments to it being adopted when MPs take a final vote on Wednesday (8 February).

As it stands, the only risk - albeit slim - to May’s plans would be a delay in the House of Lords, where the Conservatives number only 253 out of 805 peers.

The Lords is not elected and it is extremely unlikely that peers will risk a constitutional crisis by opposing the Brexit bill.

In the more likely event that the Lords proposes amendments, these would then, in turn, be subject to the approval of MPs.

The bill is timetabled to be signed into law on 13 March, giving May time to keep to her self-imposed deadline of formally triggering Article 50 before the end of March.

Separately, the Scottish parliament backed a symbolic motion rejecting the decision to trigger Article 50 on Tuesday with the support of the Scottish National Party, Greens, Liberal Democrats and most Labour MSPs.

The devolved assemblies have no power to prevent or delay the Brexit process, although Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned that the UK exiting the EU, despite a large majority for "Remain" in Scotland, could lead to her government demanding a second referendum on independence from the UK.

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