Theresa May avoids humiliating defeat in key Commons vote on Brexit bill

Theresa May has seen off a potential defeat over her flagship Brexit bill, after last-minute concessions which could give MPs a bigger say on the final withdrawal agreement and make a “no-deal” exit much less likely.

MPs voted by 324 to 298 to reject amendment 19, a House of Lords change to the EU Withdrawal Bill which would have given MPs the power to tell the Prime Minister to go back and renegotiate the Brexit deal.

And former attorney general Dominic Grieve withdrew his own proposals spelling out precise terms under which MPs should be given a “meaningful vote” on the eventual deal – including the power to dictate what the Government should do if no acceptable agreement is reached by February 2019.

Pro-EU Tories held back from rebellion after ministers indicated they were ready to discuss changes requiring the Government to seek parliamentary approval for its approach if the Commons rejects a deal this autumn.

Mr Grieve confirmed he voted with the Government after receiving assurances, telling Sky News: “I am quite satisfied we are going to get a meaningful vote.”

If confirmed, the move represents a dramatic climbdown from Mrs May’s original plan to offer MPs a “take it or leave it” vote to accept the withdrawal agreement or leave the EU without a deal.

Rebel ringleader Dominic Grieve said: “I have just voted with the Government following the assurances we got from the Prime Minister in a meeting this afternoon that our concerns, which led to this amendment being tabled, will be addressed.”

Justice Minister resigns over handling of Brexit

He told Sky News he was “fairly confident” the concerns would be addressed when the Bill goes back to the House of Lords.

“I am quite satisfied that we are going to get a meaningful vote on both deal and no deal,” he said. “I have no doubt about it after today.”

He added that there was “no doubt” that Phillip Lee’s resignation as a minister had played a role in forcing the Government to rethink.

Ahead of the vote the Prime Minister warned senior ministers in her Cabinet that defeating the government would undermine her premiership and make negotiations with Brussels harder.

But there was talk of a Tory rebellion and, hours before the crunch vote, Mrs May faced the shock ministerial resignation ahead of Phillip Lee.

Remain-supporting Dr Lee quit as justice minister live on stage during a speech in London, saying he could not support “how our country’s exit from the EU looks set to be delivered”.

Following the result a jubilant Dr Lee wrote online: “Delighted that the Government has agreed to introduce an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which will give Parliament the voice I always wanted it to have in the Brexit process. This justifies my decision to resign and makes it a lot less painful.

“However, I can only vote on the amendment that is before Parliament. I resigned because I could not support the Government’s opposition to the Lords’ amendment and still cannot. But the Prime Minister has given her word. I trust her and so I will abstain.”

The Government’s compromise is believed to be that a minister would come to the House within 28 days of a deal being rejected to tell MPs what will happen next, but an amendment tabled by former attorney general Dominic Grieve would insist on a binding Commons motion.

A Downing Street source said: “We will get a good Brexit deal that works for everybody in the UK. The Government’s amendment today provides for a meaningful vote.”

Additional reporting by PA

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