Prime Minister, Theresa May, suffered a major defeat in the Commons tonight when MPs voted to curb government powers on Brexit – something she definitely didn’t want.
It’s the first time that government has been defeated on its main Brexit legislation.
MPs voted to back an amendment by the former attorney general, Tory MP backbencher, Dominic Grieve. His ‘Amendment 7’ won by by 309 votes to 305, a majority of just four.
The amendment means Parliament will have to approve the final Brexit deal before it can go ahead. However, the amendment does not give Parliament the power to stop Brexit.
The Independent reported this evening, ‘The setback is a major blow to Mrs May’s political authority, underlining how fragile her parliamentary majority is and also signalling that those who disagree with her Brexit plans are ready to cross a line in opposing their own leader.’
Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, called it a “humiliating” defeat for the Prime Minister. He said:
“This defeat is a humiliating loss of authority for the Government on the eve of the European Council meeting.
“Labour has made the case since the referendum for a meaningful vote in Parliament on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.
“Theresa May has resisted democratic accountability. Her refusal to listen means she will now have to accept Parliament taking back control.”
Dominic Grieve said he was invoking the spirit of Winston Churchill to put “country before his party”.
Mr Grieve said he had grave concerns over the potential for Theresa May’s flagship Brexit legislation to become a “very worrying tool of executive power”.
His amendment required that any final Brexit deal has to be approved by a separate act of Parliament before it could be implemented.
Mr Grieve sought to change clause nine of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which provides the Government with the power to use secondary legislation to implement any Brexit deal.
That would require less scrutiny by MPs which clearly worried just enough Tory backbenchers to defeat their government.
Leave-supporting MPs including Dennis Skinner, Grahame Morris, Ronnie Campbell and John Mann all supported Mr Grieve’s amendment in order to inflict defeat on the government.
Writing for The Guardian, Jessica Elgot reported that one party whip described tonight’s loss for the government as ‘a game-changer for the hung parliament’.
The MP told her:
“It has broken the dam. It will be much, much easier to do it again. Rebelling once gives you a taste for it. The discipline has been broken and it shows actually that if you do risk it and rebel for something you believe in, you can make a difference.”
The Prime Minister is having to travel to Brussels tomorrow to meet her fellow EU leaders with her authority once again put into question.
Newspapers reported tonight that the government will now be under strong pressure to drop its goal to enshrine into law that the UK must leave the EU on 29 March 2019.
It is scheduled to be put to the vote next week, but after tonight’s defeat Theresa May could now conclude that it’s too much of a risk to lose that vote too.
Tonight, Parliament proved that it is alive and kicking – just.
We now need to see more evidence that Parliamentary representative democracy has more life in it, and is prepared to kick much more against the looming danger of the government imposing an undemocratic Brexit that the country never actually voted for.
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