politics

U.K. Government Wins on ‘Meaningful Vote’: Brexit Update

Updated on
Justice Minister Quits to Join Rebels

Theresa May appears to have staved off a rebellion from pro-EU Conservatives, as rebels said they were satisfied with government promises to continue talks toward a compromise.

The pound rose. A vote is expected around 5:30 p.m. in London -- the House of Commons is now voting on other amendments.

The key amendment -- introduced in the unelected House of Lords and that May is trying to defeat -- would give Parliament unprecedented power to direct Brexit negotiations if lawmakers reject the divorce deal that May plans to bring back from Brussels in October. It’s known as the meaningful vote amendment.

May objects to the clause -- inserted by the unelected House of Lords -- because she says it would tie her hands in negotiations. Brexit-backers hate it as they see it as a tool to thwart the split. Business quite likes it as it would all but remove the chances of a chaotic no-deal divorce and probably make a soft Brexit more likely. But defeat of May could also unleash more political instability.

Last minute negotiations to reach a deal continue, and there have been some unusual negotiations in plain sight on the floor of the House of Commons.

We are following developments here in real time.

U.K. Government Wins on ‘Meaningful Vote’ (5:44 p.m.)

The government saw off the Tory rebellion, winning the vote 324-298.

Grieve on Sky: “I’ve just voted with the government following the assurances from the PM that we got this afternoon that our concerns would be addressed.”

“We had a personal assurance that we would find a way of addressing the concerns which would be encapsulated in the amendment... to find a common way forward. I’m fairly confident that we will be able to do that.”

Government Offers Rebels A Concession (4:55 p.m)

Sarah Wollaston, a Tory rebel, sets out what the agreement with the government is: The government has promised to propose a new amendment in the House of Lords that will "closely reflect" the amendment put down by leading rebel Dominic Grieve. If they don’t, the Lords are likely to put down the Grieve amendment themselves.

An official in the government said it had agreed to open discussions on the Grieve amendment, but hasn’t agreed to accept parts of it yet.

Solicitor general Robert Buckland had said earlier there was merit in the first part of Grieve’s amendment.

What Did the Government Offer? (4:38 p.m.)

The Sun reports that the concession is that the House of Commons will be able to direct Brexit negotiations if there’s no deal by the end of November. And lawmakers will have a veto on how it goes from there, the Sun tweets.

Rebels Satisfied by Government Concession (4:25 p.m.)

Three rebels said they had been convinced by an offer from the government to continue talking to them with a view to getting a compromise. Talks with leading rebel Dominic Grieve are due to start tomorrow and then a modified amendment will be put to the House of Lords.

Remainer Rebels Stand Down, Indicating May Could Win (4:18 p.m)

At least three potential rebels have indicated they will vote with the government, indicating May could avert defeat.

The minister who resigned stands up to explain (3:40 p.m.)

Conservative lawmaker, Phillip Lee, who resigned earlier today from his government post to vote against the government, compared the government’s plans to repealing the death penalty. He said it is a matter of conscience for every lawmaker.

“There is growing evidence that the vote on Brexit in 2016 is detrimental to the people we were elected to serve, he said, adding “a vote between bad and worse is not a meaningful choice.’’

“If Brexit is worth doing it is worth doing well,’’ he said, adding that he respects Prime Minister Theresa May as leader.

When do traders need to tune in? (3:39 p.m.)

Timing of House of Commons votes is complicated, but the latest estimate is that we’ll get the result of the key vote around 5 p.m. Voting on a series of amendments will begin at 4.15 p.m. There are five scheduled votes before we get to “meaningful vote” but several of them are on related issues, so it’s likely there’ll only be two actual votes. A vote takes around 15 minutes, so on that schedule, the Commons should start voting on this just after 4.45 p.m., with a result around 5 p.m.

What Will the Pound Do? Short-Term Gain, Long-Term Pain if May Defeated

U.K. Government is Willing to Engage with Rebels (3:05 p.m.)

Robert Buckland, solicitor general, says the government is willing to discuss the issues raised in Grieve’s amendment. But he’s asking the rebels to trust the government for now.

Buckland and Grieve seem to be engaging in some unusual last-minute negotiations on the floor of the House of Commons. As Bloomberg reported earlier, the government is trying to find a compromise.

Solicitor general Robert Buckland offered to meet Grieve tomorrow to discuss ways of ensuring Parliament will play a role if rebels back the government-sponsored compromise amendment today.

Buckland says he needs “more time to think” before meeting him.

“I don’t think his views should be dismissed,” Grieve says, but warns Buckland he must understand the difficulties faced by lawmakers. If lawmakers are to take it on trust, “it’s got to be done in good faith,” he says.

“Everything I do with him and other colleagues is always in good faith,” Buckland replies.

Don’t forget the dissidents on the Labour side (2:20 p.m.)

There were indications that May could be saved by a rebellion by members of the opposition in the Labour Party worried about Brexit supporters in their constituencies.

Gareth Snell, who represents Stoke-on-Trent, and Frank Field, from Birkenhead, both said the motive of the "meaningful vote" amendment is to block Brexit. Their votes with the government would mitigate the damage of those Tories who decide to challenge May.

While Labour Brexit spokesman Matthew Pennycook was making the case for backing the amendment, Graham Stringer and John Mann also intervened to warn of the danger of being seen to block the divorce.

“There is no majority in this house for overturning the referendum result,” Pennycook replied. The amendment “isn’t about Parliament taking over the negotiations, it’s not about stripping ministers of their responsibilities… it’s about giving Parliament a say on shaping the direction."

Are lawmakers getting death threats? (2:10 p.m.)

Tory rebel Anna Soubry warned that at least one lawmaker is not voting against the government because they fear reprisals.

“To my knowledge at least one honourable member on these benches will today and tomorrow not vote in accordance with their conscience because of threats to their personal safety, to members of their Parliamentary staff and members of their family,” Soubry said.

Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom, who campaigned for Brexit, replied that such threats are “utterly unacceptable” and "the Government will absolutely uphold the right of every member to do as they believe is the right thing to do."

Back in February, Leadsom made public on Twitter a death threat she had received.

Davis weighs in on meaningful vote (1:31 p.m.)

Brexit Secretary David Davis stands up in the chamber to give his view on the amendments.

He is unsurprisingly not a fan of amendment 19 that guarantees a meaningful final vote on the Brexit deal by allowing the Commons to decide the next course of action if parliament rejects the deal: “This is not practical, not desirable, not appropriate.”

Negotiations with government ongoing (1:17 p.m.)

In public, the government appears not to be budging on its amendment. In private, Bloomberg News have it from a second voice -- a potential rebel lawmaker -- that negotiations are definitely still ongoing. This could be going down to the wire, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Sobering view from 10,000 feet (1:11 p.m.)

Ivan Rogers, the former U.K. ambassador to the EU, has just been answering questions from lawmakers over in the House of Commons’ home affairs committee.

He gave a downbeat assessment of how the negotiations in Brussels are going, saying that the two sides are “talking past each other” on many issues, including on the backstop plan to keep the Irish border invisible. Talks on that have become “extremely contorted and difficult.”

He said he doesn’t think the EU will ever agree to the the so-called maximum facilitation, or max fac, technology solution for customs favored by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

What’s more, the option May prefers, the so-called customs partnership, in which Britain levies tariffs at EU rates, would be considered a “rum proposition” by European governments because they would be asked “to commit major public expenditure for an untried proposition where ultimately you cede control of your external border.”

He summed it up: “If they’re in that position in saying neither max fac, neither the new customs partnership is a runner, then, you know, you don’t need to be in my shoes to think we’re heading for a major crunch.”

More Ministers Prepared to Quit, Telegraph Says (12:45 p.m.)

Four more ministers are considering quitting the government in protest, according to the Telegraph. They have been discussing their plans privately and with Phillip Lee, who resigned earlier on Tuesday and said he would vote with the pro-EU rebels.


The official view from the government (12:16 p.m.)

May’s Cabinet discussed the withdrawal bill for 20 minutes at its weekly meeting on Tuesday morning, with May repeating her message to lawmakers that votes are important “in terms of the message they send to Brussels,” her spokesman James Slack tells reporters.

He didn’t rule out any further amendments being tabled by the government, though said it would be backing its own compromise amendment on the meaningful vote, not the one tabled by former attorney general Dominic Grieve.

May received a resignation letter this morning from Justice Minister Phillip Lee. “His view is a matter for him. We thank him for his service,” Slack said.

Slack says he is “certainly not aware of any,” when asked if any other ministers are going to quit the government.

Could there be more resignations coming? (11:39 a.m.)

Fresh off Twitter from the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope: “Another Remain-supporting minister could resign today, says anti-Brexit campaigner Lord Adonis. The minister is "seriously considering their position" and could resign today, he tells me.

Clarke says meaningful vote "might go our way" (11:27 a.m.)

He’s the ultimate out-in-the-open rebel: Tory grandee Ken Clarke.

He urges people not to hold back: “people are saying they can leave it until the Trade Bill, but I just tell them the same thing will happen again.”

Is May poised to make a major concession? (11:36 a.m.)

One potential rebel lawmaker, who declined to be named after speaking to whips, thinks so. The member of parliament, who has yet to decide how to vote expects the government to give away a lot more more. A concession could be on its away this after.

Government isn’t Budging (10:50 a.m.)

The government is standing firm. An official in May’s office says the government has tabled one compromise amendment and that’s the one it’s backing.

As things stand, the government compromise doesn’t give rebels what they want -- which is power over the government. Instead it offers to inform Parliament of its intentions. The latest rebel amendment still leaves Parliament calling the shots.

Meanwhile in Brussels ... (10:20 a.m.)

With just over two weeks to go before the EU summit, diplomats from the 27 EU member states are going through the U.K. government’s temporary customs arrangement proposal from last week, while watching the debate play out in Westminster.

U.K. and EU officials aren’t negotiating this week, although there are some low-level meetings to prepare a possible round of talks next week. There’s no certainty that will go ahead yet.

If it does, the two sides will spend the time trying to come to agreement on more elements of the separation treaty (about 75 percent is agreed so far). However, the most contentious aspects of that -- the Irish border and the treaty’s dispute settlement system -- look set to remain open beyond this month’s summit.

Tory Rebel Declares Will Vote Against Government (10:17 a.m.)

Antoinette Sandbach, a well known Tory rebel, said she would vote for the new amendment put forward by Grieve. It’s an attempt at a compromise -- a slight softening on the House of Lords amendment -- but still hands all the power to Parliament, so is unlikely to be unacceptable to the government.

Pro-Remain Minister Quits and Joins Rebels (10:10 a.m)

Phillip Lee says he will vote with rebels on the amendment that would give Parliament the power to direct negotiations if lawmakers reject May’s Brexit deal.

"If, in the future, I am to look my children in the eye and honestly say that I did my best for them I cannot, in all good conscience, support how our country’s current exit from the EU looks set to be delivered," he says.

Pro-Remain Minister Resigns to Focus on Brexit (9:45 a.m.)

Phillip Lee, who backed Remain and has been chastised for his Brexit views, announced he’s resigning from the government so that he can focus on Brexit as a member of Parliament.

Potentially, he could swell the ranks of rebels today.

"I am incredibly sad to have had to announce my resignation as a minister in Her Majesty’s Government so that I can better speak up for my constituents and country over how Brexit is currently being delivered," he said on Twitter.

Down to the Wire (7:35 a.m.)

Theresa May’s government launched into last-minute negotiations to quell a Brexit rebellion by her lawmakers. But the prime minister is still facing a knife-edge vote on Tuesday that could determine the future of Brexit, and of her career.

May bought off pro-European rebels on what would have been a largely symbolic vote on whether the U.K. should remain in a customs union with the European Union after Brexit. With a vaguely worded fudge that the whole party can get behind, that fight has been postponed until another showdown next month.

But she’s still at risk of a rebellion in a vote with potentially more explosive consequences. An amendment inserted by the House of Lords into her key Brexit legislation essentially hands Parliament the power to direct negotiations if lawmakers vote down the divorce deal that May brings back from Brussels.

May hates this clause, known as the “meaningful vote” amendment, because she says it would tie her hands in negotiations. Brexit backers hate it because they see it as a tool to thwart the divorce. If the amendment is accepted, it would be another reason for Brexiters to want to replace May with one of their own.

For pro-EU rebels, the stake are high. While the customs issue will come again, they might not get another chance to secure themselves a meaningful vote on the final divorce deal that May expects to secure later this year. The government wants lawmakers to be faced with the choice of this deal or no deal – something pro-EU rebels see as no choice at all. They want to be able to send May back to the negotiating table if they don’t like it.

Last night May spoke to lawmakers in Parliament and was greeted with applause as the party made a show of unity. Some rebels had been wavering, reluctant to destabilize May and risk a Brexit hardliner taking over. Last night, some were still considering what to do.

Dominic Grieve, a leading rebel, told BBC Newsnight he might still go against the government on the meaningful vote if his own compromise amendment doesn’t get government backing. The MPs will face huge pressure right down to the vote, expected at about 3 p.m. on Tuesday.

As if they weren’t aware of the stakes, the Sun newspaper warned them they would be betraying the country if they voted against May.

May urged her lawmakers to think about the message they were sending to the EU and begged them not to tie her hands in negotiations. Robert Buckland, the Remain-supporting solicitor-general, was more succinct as he stood alongside euroskeptic Brexit Minister Steve Baker:

“There is ongoing work happening. It’s emblematic of a real sense of common purpose in the party that we all hang together or we all hang separately.”

Coming Up:

* The debate starts at about midday and voting starts at about 3 p.m. Another batch of amendments will be debate on Wednesday.

Read More:

Why Dominic Grieve Is U.K.’s Most Important Man on Brexit (1)
Stuck In the Middle: These Are Theresa May’s Four Brexit Options
The Year That Makes or Breaks Brexit: Predictions for 2018

— With assistance by Linly Lin, Katharina Rosskopf, Anna Molin, Ian Wishart, and Tim Ross

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE