British Prime Minister Theresa May has suffered one of her first defeats as Prime Minister in a key vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill by just four votes. It is one of the first major defeats that her government has suffered on the issue of Brexit after an amendment from one of her own Members of Parliament (MPs) won critical support.
The EU Withdrawal Bill is a key part of the government’s exit strategy, detailing how EU law will transfer to UK law so that the same rules and regulations can be applied after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019. Many MPs have been concerned about the lack of oversight in the process of transferring laws and argue that Theresa May will attempt to bypass MPs using so-called ‘Henry VIII powers’ which allows her to make decisions on EU law without consulting Parliament.
The amendment, titled Amendment 7 to Clause 9, was tabled by Conservative MP Dominic Grieve and is a key piece of legislation aimed at curbing the government’s power to withdraw from the European Union without the approval of Parliament. According to the amendment, Theresa May will have to give Parliament a legal guarantee of a vote on the final Brexit deal struck with Brussels.
The narrow defeat came about after at least twelve Conservative MPs, most of whom are pro-European, rebelled against the government to back the amendment along with the opposition parties. After handily defeating many of the amendments tabled in the EU Withdrawal Bill, this is a significant setback for Theresa May, despite offering concessions and last-minute talks with rebelling MPs.
Critics accused those supporting the amendment of trying to frustrate the process of Brexit, arguing that the amendment will cast doubt over whether Britain will be able to leave the EU in March 2019 if the final deal is put to a vote. Others felt that the amendment was tying the government’s hands at a time when negotiations are becoming more difficult and that Theresa May may have to re-negotiate with the EU.
It’s important to note that the amendment will not actually stop Brexit, something that pro-Leave justice minister Dominic Raab made clear in an interview soon after the vote, but it will be a setback just after a major breakthrough was announced in UK-EU negotiations. Theresa May was lauded last week for managing to get to the second phase of talks which will discuss a future relationship between Britain and Europe, including a new trade deal.
Now she will be traveling to Brussels tomorrow, carrying news of this defeat with her. After managing to vote down many attempts to change the wording of the EU Withdrawal Bill, her already shaky authority is in doubt once again.
Brexit is already a hugely complex issue. For Theresa May and her cabinet, tonight’s vote have made everything much more difficult.