MPs will be given a final vote on the Brexit deal agreed in Brussels, the government announced this afternoon - just hours before it faces a backbench rebellion over the latest stage of its Withdrawal Bill.
Brexit secretary David Davis confirmed this afternoon that the government would put a withdrawal agreement and implementation bill to the Commons once talks are concluded with the EU27. The new bill will include the agreement on citizens’ rights, any financial settlement and the details of an implementation period agreed between both sides, although details will not become clear until a deal is in place.
Davis said: “We have always said we will do whatever is necessary to prepare for our exit, including bringing forward further legislation, and that is exactly what we are doing.
“This is another important step that demonstrates our pragmatic approach to getting our house in order as we leave the EU.
“By announcing this bill, we are providing clarity and certainty - both in the negotiations and at home - about the final agreement being put into UK law.
“As we move forward, we stand ready to work with MPs from across the House to ensure a smooth, and orderly exit from the EU that is effectively scrutinised by Parliament.”
Davis stressed that the exact details of the withdrawal agreement were subject to ongoing and future negotiations and "cannot be known until those negotiations are near completion".
Asked whether Brexit would still go ahead if the bill was rejected, Davis simply said "yes" - meaning the country could leave the EU without a deal in place, the cliff edge scenario feared by businesses across the country.
The Cabinet minister added it was down to political will and he was "quite certain the political will is there".
But he was unmoved by the prospect of leaving without a deal.
"We would be able to make a good future for Britain without," he told the Commons, although admitted: "It's not the best future."
Brexit minister Steve Baker had intimated such a bill was being readied during a committee hearing last month, but this is the first time it has been confirmed as primary legislation.
Some Tories questioned how it would be possible to commit to a "meaningful" vote if Brexit talks go to the wire, as Davis has previously warned could happen. Former attorney general Dominic Grieve, who has met with Davis to discuss his concerns over the EU Withdrawal Bill, said it would not be acceptable for MPs to vote after the point of exit.
Antoinette Sandbach called on Davis to explain how "If the bill intended to ensure a meaningful vote only comes forward after that date, the vote is in any sense meaningful".
Davis replied: "Either you want the deal or you don't."
Opposition MPs interpreted the move as little more than an attempt to keep rebel Tories onside and avoid an outright rebellion.
Chris Leslie, Labour MP and leading supporter of Open Britain, slammed it as a "sham that pretends to respect the sovereignty of Parliament but falls well short of what is required".
He added: “It’s a transparent and fairly desperate attempt at the 11th hour to save face and avoid losing votes in the House.
“Ministers need to do much better. It is crucial that this meaningful vote takes place well before we leave; that defeat for the Government’s legislation will not imply leaving the EU with no deal; and that Parliament has the same role in the event of a disastrous ‘no deal’ outcome.”
Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, said: “For months, Labour has been calling on ministers to guarantee Parliament a final say on the withdrawal agreement. With less than 24 hours before they had to defend their flawed Bill to Parliament they have finally backed down. However, like everything with this government the devil will be in the detail."
Liberal Democrat's Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake reiterated his party's stance that a second referendum was needed. “A parliamentary vote simply isn’t good enough," he said. “The people voted to leave the EU, they should get to decide whether to accept the deal the government has negotiated.
“If they reject the government's Brexit deal, they must have the option to stay in the EU.”
Kieran Laird, head of constitutional affairs at law firm Gowling WLG's Brexit unit, said there would be "little parliament can do in practice if it does not agree with the specifics of the withdrawal agreement that the government brings home".
"The announcement of the bill is directed more towards the EU audience," he added. "It is about showing the EU that the UK will make good on its promise to ensure that EU citizen’s rights are capable of being enforced in UK courts."