THE GOVERNMENT saw off an attempt by Remainers to adopt the Lords amendment which would have allowed a ‘meaningful vote’ on the final Brexit deal. 303 MPs voted yesterday afternoon to accept the Lords amendment and 319 voted to reject it. So the Lords amendment was rejected by a majority of 16.
If Parliament had been given the option to reject a final deal, it would have given the Remainers the opportunity they have been waiting for to defy the referendum result and scupper Brexit.
Among the Labour MPs who voted to reject Labour’s directive to vote for the House of Lords amendment were: Frank Field, Kate Hoey, John Mann and Graham Stringer.
In the debate, Tory Brexit Secretary David Davis said: ‘An amendable motion counts as a motion in which Parliament can direct the government on how it should proceed. There is a clear difference between government taking parliament’s view into account as expressed through a debate and Parliament instructing the government on how to act.’
He added: ‘Let me be clear, I have never argued in favour of no deals; I do not favour no deal; I will do what I can to avoid no deal; it is not an outcome we are seeking.
‘As it stands, I am confident we will achieve a deal which this Parliament can support, as it stands.
‘But you cannot enter a negotiation without a right to walk away. If you do, it rapidly ceases to be a negotiation. ‘So the Lords amendment undermines the strength of the United Kingdom in the negotiations. ‘There are plenty of voices on the European side of the negotiations who seek to punish us and do us harm and push us into a bad deal.’
Labour’s shadow secretary for exiting the EU, Keir Starmer, said: ‘We need to be clear about what this amendment is and what it is not.’ He said, ‘It is not about frustrating Brexit or undermining the government.’ He said Davis now wants to sideline Parliament when its voice ‘is most needed’ and that Parliament must have the right to accept or reject the final deal. Labour MPs were told to vote for the Lords amendment.
Hilary Benn said Davis’s argument is ‘not true’. He listed the ‘dire consequences’ he thinks will come if no deal is made with the EU. ‘We are not ready to cope’ with no deal, he said. He said future generations will ask ‘what did you do?’ and he says it will have only ‘taken note’. He said this is the ‘last opportunity to take back control’ on Brexit and urged MPs to support the Lords amendment.
Tory MP for Beaconsfield Dominic Grieve and member of the Privy Council who was expected to lead a Tory revolt in support of the House of Lords amendment backed down, however. He said: ‘I will say to the government this. Those differences may extend to I, as a member of Parliament, taking a different view if there is no deal from what the government might wish.’
Suggesting that Parliament’s role is to protect the people against themselves he warned: ‘This House has the right to act, if that happens, in order to protect the interests of the British people and the responsibility in those circumstances lies as much with us as with the government.’
On what actions are open to Parliament if the government proposes a no deal he said: ‘If the government were to concede the amendments as drafted, it must be understood by the House that the government could ignore it, and I can assure the House it would not be enforceable in any Court of Law. This really has to be understood: it would not. It could not be enforceable in any Court of Law because that would entirely undermine the rights and privileges of this place.
‘It would be for us to enforce it and of course the ultimate sanction this House has is a motion of no confidence. ‘Short of that, there are other means by which the House can in fact bring its very clear view to bear on the government.’
Announcing that he will not be supporting the amendment, he added: ‘In view of that, having finally obtained the obvious acknowledgment of the sovereignty of this place over the executive, I am prepared to accept the government’s difficulties and support it and accept the form of amendments it wants.’
The EU Withdrawal Bill was due to go before the House of Lords yesterday evening with the Tory high command expressing confidence that the Lords would accept the defeat of their amendment and allow the Bill to go forwards.