May seeks compromise on Brexit Bill

British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to give Parliament a vote on the final Brexit deal, but the question is what happens if lawmakers decide to reject it
British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to give Parliament a vote on the final Brexit deal, but the question is what happens if lawmakers decide to reject it. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

She has until tomorrow to draft a watertight amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill

LONDON • Pro-Europeans in British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party warned yesterday she must keep promises to give Parliament a greater say over the final Brexit deal or risk a truce she needs to avoid a damaging defeat.

Mrs May narrowly avoided losing a major vote on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday by offering last-minute concessions to Tory MPs who fear the government could decide on its own to leave the bloc with no deal.

But there is a dispute over what exactly she promised, with euro-sceptics warning that there must be no question of allowing lawmakers the opportunity to undo Brexit.

Mrs May has until tomorrow to draft a legally watertight amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that will be acceptable to both sides.

There is no time to get the wording of the compromise text wrong because it will probably be debated and voted on in the House of Lords on Monday, according to one senior government official.

Mrs May, who leads a minority government propped up by the small Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, conceded yesterday that "we need parliamentary support" to implement Brexit.

But while ministers must be accountable to lawmakers, she told MPs that "the government's hand in negotiations cannot be tied by Parliament".

"I cannot countenance Parliament being able to overturn the will of the British people," she added.

The Brexit talks are progressing painfully slowly, but both sides still hope to reach a deal in October, ahead of Britain's withdrawal from the EU in March 2019. Mrs May has promised to give the British Parliament a vote on the final deal, but the question is what happens if lawmakers decide to reject it.

On Tuesday, MPs overturned an amendment made by the Lords which would have given Parliament the power to decide whether to leave the EU without a deal, keep negotiating or stay in the bloc.

It followed a last-minute meeting between Mrs May and more than a dozen Tory MPs who considered supporting the motion.

One pro-European Tory, Mr Nicky Morgan, told the BBC that Mrs May "understood that Parliament wants to have a real say, in all circumstances, in relation to what's going to happen in the Brexit deal".

One compromise plan put forward by the rebels would ensure that if there was no Brexit deal by the end of November, ministers must seek Parliament's approval for its plan to proceed.

Euro-sceptics urged the government to hold firm. The rebels "seek a further parliamentary vote with the intent of overturning the decision of the British people", Conservative MP John Redwood tweeted.

Mrs May has made an art of holding together the factions in her divided party, but it remains to be seen if she can find an amendment that prevents a rebellion from either side. "We hope for support from all wings of the party when we bring forward Brexit policy," a government source said.

MPs yesterday continued discussing the Lords' amendments on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, with possible flashpoints on proposals to keep Britain closely aligned with the EU economy after Brexit.

In chaotic scenes before they started, Scottish National Party (SNP) MP Ian Blackford was ejected from the Commons after demanding an emergency debate on the impact of Brexit on devolution. His party's MPs walked out with him and he warned of a "constitutional crisis" with London.

The Scottish Parliament has refused to approve the Brexit Bill, which it says would see London take back powers - albeit temporarily - from Brussels after Brexit that should by rights go to Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said yesterday the British government needs to move on from internal debates and make choices about what it wants from Brexit, and must acknowledge that it cannot have its cake and eat it too. "I think the UK needs to make decisions and make some choices. They continually seem to have internal debates," Mr Varadkar told Parliament. "Putting a decision off doesn't make it any easier."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2018, with the headline 'May seeks compromise on Brexit Bill'. Print Edition | Subscribe