Theresa May backs down over Brexit votes in Parliament, official says

Lawmakers may be able to call for changes to British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plans, including asking for another referendum or for a different deal.
Lawmakers may be able to call for changes to British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plans, including asking for another referendum or for a different deal.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - British Prime Minister Theresa May has backed down in a key Brexit battle with Parliament, ditching moves to stop lawmakers trying to re-write her Brexit plans, according to an official.

The government had planned to try to prevent the House of Commons from changing the terms of Mrs May's agreement with the European Union before politicians finally vote on it.

But according to one official, speaking on condition of anonymity, Mrs May's team have now dropped this tactic in the face of protests from politicians.

That means lawmakers will be free to vote on a series of potential changes to Mrs May's motion, which could include calls for another referendum, or for a different deal with the EU.

It is a decision with potentially huge implications for the future direction of Brexit.

The fact that Mrs May is backtracking already ahead of the Dec 11 vote suggests she knows she is losing the battle with rebels in her own Conservative Party who want to tear up the agreement she has reached with the EU.

'MEANINGFUL VOTE'

Nearly 100 Conservative members of Parliament have publicly committed to voting against the Brexit deal when it is put to a vote.

The "Meaningful Vote" debate, as it has become known, will take this form: Starting next Tuesday (Dec 4), there will be five days of eight-hour debates, with a break from Dec 7 to Dec 9.

Each day's debate will be led by a different Cabinet minister, focusing discussion on their brief.

Voting will start at 7pm on Dec 11.

The Commons will vote on a series of amendments to the government's motion, likely to include calls for another referendum or for the government to seek a customs union with the European Union.

Each vote will take around 15 minutes.

 
 
 
 

Finally, the Commons will vote on the government's motion, including any amendments that passed.

The plans were disclosed by a British official who asked not to be identified, because the plans are private.

Parliamentary business managers from the different parties are still hammering out the details of how the vote will be held, but the government's aim is to produce a plan that its opponents, internal and external, can't object to.

PREMIER'S NATIONAL TOUR

Officials believe that no alternative to Mrs May's option will command a majority in the Commons either, and a series of votes on the amendments could demonstrate that.

Labour members are likely to be ordered not to support a second referendum, for example.

If other options are indeed voted down in turn, it will add force to Mrs May's argument that hers is the only way to avoid a crashing out of the EU with no deal.

The Prime Minister has embarked on a national campaign to convince voters and politicians that her deal is the best and only one available for delivering Brexit.

But many Conservatives object to the so-called "Irish backstop" section of Mrs May's deal, because they argue it will tie Britain indefinitely to EU tariffs, undermining the country's ability to strike free trade deals with allies around the world such as the United States.

In the days to come, Mrs May's team will focus on persuading sceptical Tories that the plan isn't, as some believe, a trap.

The official expected European leaders to make clear that, as Mrs May has repeatedly said, that they too wish to avoid Britain being caught in the backstop.

The backstop is intended to ensure trade in goods continues freely across Britain's politically sensitive border with Ireland after Brexit.