Brexit deal: ‘Meaningful vote’ battle resumes in Lords

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The battle over Parliament’s say in the Brexit process between MPs, peers and ministers has resumed in the Lords.

Peers will vote later on whether the government should have to seek MPs’ approval if there is no Brexit deal.

Theresa May avoided defeat on the issue last week but rebels say concessions made by Downing Street are “valueless”.

MPs overturned a series of changes to the EU Withdrawal Bill made by peers and now the Upper Chamber must decide whether to give way or stand firm.

A dozen or so Tory MPs, led by former attorney general Dominic Grieve, want a bigger role for Parliament, should a final Brexit deal be rejected by MPs or if no deal is reached – the so-called “meaningful vote”.

After two days of talks last week, Mr Grieve said a government amendment drawn up to avert a rebellion was changed at the last minute and that he and his colleagues would not back down.

Peers will vote later on a new amendment which goes further than what the government has offered so far by saying MPs would have to “approve” the government’s proposed course action, rather than just consider it “in neutral terms”.

The BBC’s parliamentary correspondent Mark D’Arcy said the amendment, by former cabinet minister Lord Hailsham, was likely to be approved, given the previous version of the amendment passed by 91 votes.

If that happens, there will be a fresh showdown in the Commons on Wednesday when the bill returns there as part of the parliamentary “ping-pong” process – whereby both houses agree on the final form of legislation

Mr Grieve warned on Sunday that Tory rebels could potentially “collapse the government” if they were denied a real say on the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement.

He told BBC One’s Sunday Politics he thought both sides had agreed MPs could have an “advisory” vote, that would not order the government to do anything, but would help people to “keep calm”.

He said he was not prepared to sign up to a position where the UK risked going “over the edge of a cliff” without Parliament expressing its view.

“I’m absolutely sure that the group is quite determined that the meaningful vote pledge, which was given to us, has got to be fulfilled,” he said.

The rival amendments

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The government’s amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill sets out what must happen in the event of three scenarios: If MPs vote down the UK-EU Brexit deal, if Theresa May announces before 21 January 2019 that no deal has been reached, or if 21st January passes with no deal being struck.

Under these circumstances, a minister must make a statement in Parliament setting out their next steps and give MPs an opportunity to vote.

However, the vote would be on “a motion in neutral terms”, merely stating that the House has considered the statement.

The new amendment by Lord Hailsham includes the same scenarios, but changes the language so the motions in “neutral terms” become motions to “approve”.

The government says the whole row is about a “hypothetical” scenario and it expects to come back with a good deal in the autumn that Parliament will support.

Conservative MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan said she was “distinctly uncomfortable” about the way in which she said Mr Grieve was “pushing this to the limit”.

Asked on the BBC’s Daily Politics whether she believed her colleague was seeking to block Brexit, she replied “it is starting to feel a bit like that”.

The MP, who campaigned to leave in the 2016 referendum, said the prime minister “needed the right tools” to take the UK out of the EU in accordance with the wishes of the British people.

The main purpose of the EU Withdrawal Bill is to end the supremacy of EU law in the UK, and transfer existing EU law into UK law so the same rules and regulations apply on the day after Brexit.

But as it passes through Parliament, MPs and peers have been trying to change it, in some cases adding bits on that would change the government’s Brexit strategy.

Aside from the “meaningful vote” debate, peers are voting on a number of “compromise” amendments tabled by ministers in response to 15 defeats inflicted on them in the House of Lords.

So far they have agreed to what the government proposed on customs and environmental regulations.

Brexit deal: ‘Meaningful vote’ battle resumes in Lords}

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