May wins Brexit vote in Parliament

She keeps deeply divided government's plans to end British membership of EU on track

LONDON • Prime Minister Theresa May won a crucial Brexit vote in Parliament yesterday, keeping her deeply divided government's plans to end Britain's more than 40 years of partnership with Europe on track.

MPs in the House of Commons voted to reject a motion that would have strengthened the power of lawmakers to intervene if no deal is reached with Brussels before Brexit in March next year.

Just hours earlier, Brexit Secretary David Davis issued a statement offering a clarification that the rebels said would ensure Parliament would have a "meaningful vote".

Leading rebel Conservative Dominic Grieve said this was an "obvious acknowledgement of the sovereignty of this place (Parliament)", and confirmed he would back the government.

Another rebel, former minister Nicky Morgan, tweeted: "On this basis, Parliament's vote is meaningful - and I will support govt amendment."

In the end, MPs voted by 319 to 303 reject a rebel amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which sets the legal framework for Brexit. The government's proposal was passed without a vote.

Mrs May adopted a high-risk strategy by directly facing off with rebels in her Conservative Party, and it seemed to pay off. One lawmaker said Mrs May had had no option but to take on the rebels or risk their rebellion growing.

But the battle may be a taste of things to come. Mrs May needs to get several Bills through Parliament to prepare Britain for life outside the European Union.

Some of her opponents on Brexit may simply have decided to keep their powder dry for later fights on issues such as future trading ties with the bloc.

Mr Grieve had led the potential rebellion over Mrs May's proposal - to offer Parliament a statement setting out what she will do if she fails to negotiate an agreement with the EU, or if lawmakers reject any deal she returns with.

But after days of lobbying by Conservative officials that Parliament should not tie the government's hands in the Brexit talks and that lawmakers were handing an advantage to the EU, Mr Grieve seemed to have put his concerns aside.

Mr Grieve said he now saw he needed to take account of Mrs May's concerns over the state of the negotiations, which have all but stalled because of divisions in her government.

While Mrs May won the day, the high-stakes vote is a reminder of how difficult her situation is.

Her Conservative Party commands only a slim majority in the 650-seat Commons and relies on the support of Northern Ireland's 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs.

In a sign of how close yesterday's vote was, heavily pregnant and sick MPs were called in to cast their ballots, including one in a wheelchair.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2018, with the headline 'May wins Brexit vote in Parliament'. Print Edition | Subscribe