Conservative party divisions resurface as Brexiters accuse Remainers of "grossest hypocrisy" while rebels threaten PM over "trust" on EU Withdrawal Bill amendments

 
Catherine Neilan
Follow Catherine
BRITAIN-POLITICS-EU-BREXIT
Youth justice minister Phillip Lee resigned today in protest at the government's handling of Brexit (Source: Getty)

Theresa May escaped a crunch vote bruised but not beaten tonight as backbench MPs flexed their muscles over the EU Withdrawal Bill.

The Prime Minister avoided losing any of the 15 votes on amendments sent down from the Lords.

A standoff over Dominic Grieve’s meaningful vote amendment ended with would-be rebels backing down - but only on the basis of some fairly significant concessions, resulting in a government amendment that looks very similar to the former attorney general’s.

The government's eleventh hour amendment, lifted in large parts from Grieve’s own proposal and to be presented to the Lords on Monday, will compel the government to give a statement could give MPs the right to veto the government's strategy if it fails to secure a political agreement with the EU by 30 November.

A third component, which would allow MPs to direct the government on future talks if there is no resolution on the withdrawal agreement by 15 February, will be the subject of further discussion.

In another chaotic day in Westminster, which saw the resignation of youth justice minister Phillip Lee in the morning, May spoke with around a dozen Tory rebels in her office minutes before voting started. She gave them her personal assurance that she would agree to consider their proposals and amend the bill in the Lords.

On Monday night she had urged party unity from her backbenchers, telling them to consider “the message parliament will send to Brussels this week”.

But the horse-trading required to avoid defeat underlined just how fragile the Prime Minister’s grip on her party is - as well as how divided it is.

A high profile Remain MP said any suggestion May would row back on her position would be "very serious - a betrayal of the PM's trust".

But one senior member of the European Research Group told City A.M. Grieve and his colleagues were “overplaying their hand”, stressing that the third part of his amendment had not been agreed to.

He added that the Eurosceptic group was backing the Prime Minister, arguing the “rebels” were the ones increasing the chances of a no deal.

“The ERG are supporting the government,” the MP said. “Frankly, for Grieve and [Ken] Clarke to say they want to rescue the government it’s absolute crap - the grossest hypocrisy.”

Last week Clarke told City A.M. Brexiter ministers who weren't willing to back the Prime Minister should resign, while Remainer backbenchers accused Leavers of trying to depose Theresa May.

However a pro-Brexit moderate said: "The question is what can they do about it? The Remainers are scared that the person who might win a leadership contest might be hardline, the Brexiters are scared that you would not get Brexit at all - and as long as both sides are scared, nothing changes.

"The party is in same place it was six months ago and a year ago - nothing has changed, nothing has changed."

A DExEU spokesperson said: "On the meaningful vote we have agreed to look for a compromise when this goes back to the Lords.

"The Brexit secretary has set out three tests that any new amendment has to meet – not undermining the negotiations, not changing the constitutional role of Parliament and government in negotiating international treaties, and respecting the referendum result.

"We have not, and will not, agree to the House of Commons binding the government's hands in the negotiations."

Related articles