Monday

24th Sep 2018

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.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  2. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  3. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  4. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  5. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  6. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  7. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says
  8. Airbnb agrees to clarify pricing for EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us