Offer to Brexit rebels - a veto on final EU deal

By Robert Hutton, Tim Ross

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo / AP
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo / AP

British Prime Minister Theresa May kept her plan to trigger Brexit on track after promising MPs the chance to veto the final deal she strikes with the European Union.

May's Administration defeated an attempt in Parliament to force her to give MPs more power over the final Brexit agreement by 326 votes to 293 today, even though some senior members of her Conservative Party defied her authority and voted against the Government.

The rebel Conservatives - including former ministers - and opposition legislators wanted May to promise Parliament a binding vote on the terms of the UK's departure from the bloc before it is too late for the final agreement to be changed. They were demanding the option of sending May back to the negotiating table to seek better terms if the proposed UK-EU accord is not good enough.

But the PM's opponents were defeated in the House of Commons in London after Brexit Minister David Jones promised MPs a vote on the "final draft agreement".

That accord will cover both the exit deal and the new trading relationship with the EU, before it is sent to the European Parliament for ratification, he said.

"It will be the choice between leaving the European Union with a negotiated deal, or not," Jones told the Commons. "To send the Government back to the negotiating table would be the surest way of undermining our negotiating position and delivering a worse deal."

May's Government is seeking permission from MPs to trigger the start of the Brexit process by invoking Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty. Members of Parliament are debating a draft law that would give the PM the authority to fire the starting gun on Brexit, a law she was forced to produce after Supreme Court judges ruled she had to seek the approval of Parliament first.

The PM wants MPs to pass the bill quickly so she can meet her deadline of triggering Article 50 by March 31.

The concession from Jones initially satisfied some, though not all, opponents of May's plans.

Keir Starmer, the Brexit spokesman from the Labour Party, welcomed it. "It is a very significant decision by the Government and I am very grateful that it has been made," he said.

Other MPs were more sceptical. The Government is "treating Parliament with contempt," said the Green Party's Caroline Lucas. "They're offering a 'choice' between an extreme Brexit and a cliff edge."

And later in the debate, several Conservatives dismissed Jones's concession, saying it didn't give them the guarantees they needed.

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke summarised the minister's offer as a "take it or leave it" vote. If MPs chose to reject the deal, the UK would have no trading agreement with the EU and would have to revert to World Trade Organisation terms, Clarke said.

Jones confirmed that the fallback option for the UK if Parliament decides to throw out the final Brexit agreement, would be WTO terms with higher tariffs.

- Bloomberg

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