Government in "grave danger" over Brexit showdown as EU Withdrawal Bill returns to Commons

Catherine Neilan
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Daily UK Life
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The chair of the powerful Treasury Select Committee has warned David Davis he risks putting the government "in grave danger" if he refuses to back down on key amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill.

Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom confirmed on Thursday morning that the bill - a critical part of the Brexit process, enabling the government to transplant thousands of EU laws into UK statute and end direct jurisdiction of the ECJ - will return to the Commons for further debate on 14 November.

Nearly 400 amendments have been tabled so far, by a cross-party of critics including Conservative MP and former Attorney General Dominic Grieve. Grieve met with Brexit secretary David Davis this week, in discussions that have been described to City A.M. as "cordial".

Despite this, the government is understood to be nervous about the potential for a Tory rebellion, with just seven votes required to go against it.

One former minister told City A.M: "They are very, very jittery," adding there were concerns it could destabilise Theresa May's government, "although they feel the greatest risk is when government has to make further concessions to the EU on budget, etc."

Remain-supporting Tory Nicky Morgan told David Davis on Thursday he should not be complacent about an upset if the Brexit secretary did not listen to MPs' concerns.

"Reports have reached members on this side that the secretary of state doesn't think those Conservative members who have signed the amendment are serious about supporting it if we need to," she said. "Can I tell him we are deadly serious, and it would be better for the government to attempt a concession strategy on having a withdrawal agreement secured by statute sooner rather than later for all concerned."

Morgan, herself a former minister, later told City AM: "He's putting the government in grave danger of being defeated, or having to make hurried last-minute concessions."

Other backbenchers have also said they fear a party rebellion could be in the offing and the bill blocked on principle.

One said: "It all depends on the Tory Remainer rebels, of which there are not huge amounts, though they are active."

Another added: "There are a very small number [on the Conservative side] who have a very serious intention of stopping the bill... but some of the amendments that are down could effectively stop it."

Labour MP Chris Leslie said "blithe reassurances" from Davis were not enough and warned that opposition MPs would "force [government's] hand" if it did not back down.

Earlier this week the Liberal Democrats offered to back the government on the bill if it committed to holding a second referendum on the final deal.

This was rejected by backbenchers as "absurd" and "just silliness", while a Dexeu spokesperson said: "We have already had a referendum and the British people voted to leave the EU: we are delivering on that instruction."

On the bill, a spokesman told City A.M. Dexeu was "listening to colleagues from around the house" but wouldn't "prejudge" the outcome of next month's debate.

He added it was "everyone in parliament's responsibility" to ensure the bill was passed, pointing to Davis' previous comments that the country would be "in chaos" without it.