EU's chief Brexit negotiator describes Tory Brexit vote defeat as 'good day for democracy'

MPs have "taken back control" of the Brexit process and inflicted a humiliating House of Commons defeat on Theresa May with the help of around a dozen Tory rebels.

In a damaging blow to her already diminished authority, Tory rebels rallied around ringleader Dominic Grieve to back his attempt to ensure MPs have a "meaningful vote" on the withdrawal deal.

A dramatic last-minute concession by justice minister Dominic Raab was dismissed as "too late" by Mr Grieve, whose amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill squeezed through the Commons on a majority of four amid tense scenes in the chamber.

Responding to the news tonight the European Parliament’s chief Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: "British Parliament takes back control. European and British Parliament together will decide on the final agreement. Interests of the citizens will prevail over narrow party politics. A good day for democracy."

Tory Remainer Nicky Morgan tweeted "Tonight Parliament took control of the EU Withdrawal process", while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the defeat as "a humiliating loss of authority" for Mrs May.

Amid intense scenes in the Commons as the division was called, would-be rebel Vicky Ford appeared to be wavering between division lobbies before being ushered towards the Government side by Chancellor Philip Hammond and Brexiteer MP James Cleverly.

She had asked Mr Raab to outline his concession, who told her he was making it "crystal clear" that there would be a "meaningful vote" before the withdrawal deal was put into UK law.

As Mrs May prepared to travel to a Brussels summit on Thursday where European Union leaders are expected to rubber-stamp Brexit negotiations moving on to trade, Mr Corbyn 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."

A Government spokeswoman said: "We are disappointed that Parliament has voted for this amendment despite the strong assurances that we have set out.

"We are as clear as ever that this Bill, and the powers within it, are essential.

"This amendment does not prevent us from preparing our statute book for exit day. We will now determine whether further changes are needed to the Bill to ensure it fulfils its vital purpose."

There were 11 Tory rebels in total, according to the official Commons list.

Prominent among them was Tory rebel Anna Soubry repeatedly shouted "too late" as Mr Raab outlined his concession and Government whips buzzed around the chamber in an attempt to win over MPs.

After a night of high drama in the Commons, Ms Soubry told Sky News: "Nobody takes any pleasure and certainly I don’t when the Government loses a vote, these are important things.

"But this was a really important moment because it was about actually delivering what the Government said it wanted to do, which was to have a meaningful vote in this place.

"The truth is Parliament has been excluded from the whole of the Brexit process and now we’re back in the frame and that means we can represent all our voters."

She added: "It was a stupid fight the Government fought, and they fought it very badly, and I’m afraid they did themselves no favour.

"It (the rebellion) would have been higher but a number of my colleagues actually abstained because the Government made some sort of strange offer at the end.

"They’ve just got to stop playing silly games with this, and they’ve got to realise that this Bill was drafted before the general election, it was drafted to deliver a hard Brexit backed up with a majority of 100."

Ms Soubry, who earlier revealed she had found a woman MP "upset and shaken" after a whip tried to persuade her not to revolt on Tuesday evening, hit out at the abuse faced by rebels.

"Just slagging people off and calling us mutineers and traitors and all the rest of it is not acceptable," she said.

Another rebel, Commons Health Committee chairwoman Sarah Wollaston said the move was a "parliamentary victory" rather than a Government defeat, tweeting: "Proud to have supported a #MeaningfulVote".

A Downing Street spokesman said: "Today the European Parliament voted to move on to the next phase of talks in our departure from the European Union, and tomorrow the Prime Minister will be attending European Council in Brussels, working towards the deep and special partnership we all want to see.

"We respect the will of the House, and will continue to focus on preparing the country to leave the EU in March 2019."

Mr Grieve’s amendment means the Government can only implement elements of the withdrawal agreement once a statute allowing them to do so has been passed - a measure which appears to go beyond Mrs May’s promised vote on a resolution of both Houses.

The statute sought by Mr Grieve would undergo full parliamentary scrutiny - meaning it could be rewritten by MPs, potentially leaving the Government vulnerable to further revolts over elements of the withdrawal deal.

The Beaconsfield MP said he had no option but to push his amendment to a vote because the Bill gave ministers "the biggest Henry VIII power ever conferred on Government" with no justification.

"I’m obviously pleased with the outcome because I felt it was a vote which had to be taken, particularly in view of the intransigence and difficulty we had in trying to reason with the Government over the last few days," Mr Grieve said.

"Do I otherwise feel good about it? No, it’s the first time I’ve ever had to rebel on a national issue against the Government, I think I’ve only ever done it once before in respect of High-Speed 2, so it’s one of the most unpleasant things one can possibly do."

He went on: "Unfortunately although we had a sensible discussion to begin with, it petered out at the end of last week despite my best endeavours.

"So in those circumstances I have to say it was the only thing open for me to do and I’d like to emphasise - it doesn’t stop Brexit in any way.

"It actually was intended to try to make sure that Brexit takes place in an orderly manner."

Mr Raab said the defeat would not hold up the Brexit process.

"It’s a setback but it’s a fairly minor setback, it won’t frustrate the Brexit process," he said.

He added: "It’s not going to stop us leaving the EU in March 2019."


 

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