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Theresa May Faces Backlash for Brexit Amendments

Posted 15 Dec 17

Tory objectors push for the continuation of single market membership and a guaranteed vote on the final Brexit deal. The government's conquest in last night's EU Withdrawal Bill vote was cursorily comfortable. The Brexiteers gained majority of the vote by 326-290, with seven Labour MPs (Ronnie Campbell, Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, John Mann, Dennis Skinner and Graham Stringer) supporting the bill and six refraining. Only one Conservative MP (Ken Clarke) assisted the remainers by abstaining.

Nonetheless, as Stephen wrote this morning, life now gets harder for Theresa May. Shortly after the bill's passage after midnight, MPs were lining up to table amendments. Tory remainers have long regarded the bill's committee stage as their moment.

A total of 136 amendments and 29 clauses have been discussed by MPs. This includes 24 by the Labour leadership, but even May's most enthusiastic opponents are improbable to back anything with Jeremy Corbyn's name on it. For this reason, the amendments to watch are those tabled by Labour and Tory backbenchers.

Nine Conservative rebels (including Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve, Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry) have commanded that the government "empower Parliament to control the length and basic terms of interim arrangements". At present, however May has acknowledged the need for a transitional period after Brexit (or "implementation period" as she prefers to call it), she has ruled out continued membership of the single market and the customs union. However, Labour's altered attitude creates a probable parliamentary majority for a softer transition. A Tory amendment overtly calls for the UK to "retain the provisions of the European Economic Area Act 1993 as part of domestic legislation beyond exit day" (warranting continued single market membership).

The same nine Tory rebels have also called for the government to safeguard that the final Brexit deal is "approved by statute passed by parliament" (as May has promised) and for ministers to "remove the exclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights from retained EU law". Twelve Conservative MPs have supported a lessening in the so-called "Henry VIII powers", which would permit ministers to make comprehensive changes to UK law without parliamentary sanction.

Though it was the public who voted for Brexit, it is MPs who will govern the form it takes. For decades, it was Eurosceptics who respected parliamentary sovereignty. But as remainers pursue a softer Brexit, and as leavers seek an unhindered withdrawal, their roles have now been reversed.