Theresa May loses Brexit majority as Tory rebels demand law on final deal

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Theresa May effectively lost her majority on a series of Brexit issues today as a dozen senior Conservatives put down major amendments to the Withdrawal Bill.

They include a demand for Parliament to pass a binding law on the final withdrawal deal, rather than the “deal or no deal” vote offered by ministers. Other amendments include limiting and controlling the use of so-called Henry VIII powers which allow ministers to “rule by decree”, and preserving rights that ministers are suspected of trying to dump through stealth.

The risk of defeat for the Prime Minister became clear as the list revealed enough Tory rebels to overcome her working majority in the Commons of 12. Heavyweight names included former Cabinet minister Kenneth Clarke, ex-attorney general Dominic Grieve, ex-minister Bob Neill and four committee chairs, including Treasury committee chief Nicky Morgan.

A total of 136 amendments and 29 new clauses taking up 59 pages were tabled by MPs during the early hours after the Withdrawal Bill cleared its first Commons test in a historic vote. It had a majority of 36 thanks to a Labour split. Mr Grieve said: “If the Government listens we can get a sensible Bill on the statute books. But in its current form the Bill is not acceptable.”

In July the Government offered a simple vote on the withdrawal deal in the Commons and the Lords, which will cover vital transitional arrangements. But the new demand for an Act of Parliament goes much further, in particular by saying the Withdrawal Bill will not come into force until approval is put into statute.

Labour’s Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer also put down a raft of amendments, covering the Henry VIII powers and  protections on human rights and environmental standards.

He said: “This is such a flawed Bill that the Prime Minister should have dropped it and started again. Instead, she has adopted her normal blinkered approach and forced through a Bill that will need extensive amendment and improvement in a whole range of areas.”

Today Mrs May said her victory in the first vote gave “certainty and clarity” to Brexit. Sir Keir’s bid to block the Bill was defeated by 318 votes to 296 and a later vote to give it a second reading passed by a majority of 36. Seven Labour MPs backed the Bill in defiance of their whips and a dozen abstained.

The Liberal Democrats described it as “a dark day for the mother of parliaments”.

But Mrs May said: “Earlier this morning Parliament took a historic decision to back the will of the British people and vote for a Bill which gives certainty and clarity ahead of our withdrawal from the European Union.

“Although there is more to do, this decision means we can move on with negotiations with solid foundations and we continue to encourage MPs from all parts of the UK to work together in support of this vital piece of legislation.”

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