Theresa May last night suffered a humiliating House of Commons defeat in a critical Brexit vote at the hands of her own MPs.
In a damaging blow to her already diminished authority, Tory rebels rallied around ringleader Dominic Grieve to back his attempt to ensure MPs have a “meaningful vote” on the withdrawal deal.
A dramatic last-minute concession by justice minister Dominic Raab was dismissed as “too late” by Mr Grieve, whose amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill squeezed through the Commons on a majority of four amid tense scenes in the chamber.
Tory rebel Nicky Morgan tweeted: “Tonight Parliament took control of the EU Withdrawal process.”
While some would-be rebels such as George Freeman and Vicky Ford said Mr Raab’s promise of fresh limits on powers in the Bill was enough for them to back down, it was not enough for the Government to avoid defeat.
As Mrs May prepared to travel to a Brussels summit today where European Union leaders are expected to rubber-stamp Brexit negotiations moving on to trade, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “This defeat is a humiliating loss of authority for the Government on the eve of the European Council meeting.”
“Labour has made the case since the referendum for a meaningful vote in Parliament on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.”
“Theresa May has resisted democratic accountability. Her refusal to listen means she will now have to accept Parliament taking back control.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “We are disappointed that Parliament has voted for this amendment despite the strong assurances that we have set out.”
“We are as clear as ever that this Bill, and the powers within it, are essential.”
“This amendment does not prevent us from preparing our statute book for exit day. We will now determine whether further changes are needed to the Bill to ensure it fulfils its vital purpose.”
There were cheers in the chamber last night when the result of the vote became clear.
Conservative former attorney general Dominic Grieve led the rebellion via his amendment seven, which would require any Brexit deal to be approved by a separate act of Parliament before it could be implemented.
He warned ministers they had “run out of road” and drew upon Winston Churchill’s spirit as he said he intended to put “country before his party”.
Minutes before the vote, Justice minister Dominic Raab sought to appease would-be rebels by saying the Government would rewrite the Bill to guarantee concessions it had offered but was faced with shouts of “too late” by some MPs on his side.
Mr Raab promised fresh limits on powers contained in the Bill, explaining that no statutory instrument approved under the controversial clause nine would take effect until Parliament had voted on Britain’s final deal with the bloc.
Clause nine provides the Government with the power to use secondary legislation to implement any Brexit deal – which would require less scrutiny from MPs.
Mr Raab later told the Commons: “Having taken advice, and in particular having listened very carefully to the contributions by (Mr Grieve and Tory former minister Sir Oliver Letwin), the Government is willing – reflecting the mood of the House – to return at report stage with an amendment on the face of the Bill, making clear the undertaking and assurance that I gave in my speech that statutory instruments under clause nine will not enter into force until we’ve had a meaningful vote in Parliament.”
But Tory MP Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) labelled the Bill’s powers as “sweeping”, adding: “I’m afraid I’m not willing to give away parliamentary sovereignty that I exercise on behalf of my constituents for some residual control to the executive.
“If the minister needs that power in relation to the withdrawal bill he needs to come back to this House and ask for it.”
“I found his explanation utterly unconvincing at the despatch box.”
A Labour amendment, seeking to remove the capacity of ministers to modify and amend the Act via delegated powers, was defeated by 316 votes to 297 – majority 19.