Theresa May today faces one of her biggest leadership tests, as MPs prepare for a series of crunch votes on the Government’s Brexit legislation.
Over the next two days, the Commons will have its say on proposed House of Lords amendments to the EU withdrawal bill – including one which would give Parliament a “meaningful vote” on the PM’s final deal and future negotiations – in a marathon session starting at 1pm today.
The most significant of the votes – and perhaps the most important Commons decision of the year so far – is expected at around 4pm.
That’s when we will find out just how many Tory “Remainer rebels” really do mean business on Brexit, as MPs decide whether to give themselves a final say.
A report by Matthew Parris in The Times – backed up by the shock resignation of justice minister and ardent Remainer Philip Lee on Tuesday morning – suggested the moment could be so historic that it “could evince some quiet heroism from unexpected people”.
But for the 48% of voters holding out for a hero until the end of the night, it’s still unclear if they’ll find a rebel leader – or if that rebel leader is Dominic Grieve.
The leading Conservative pro-Europe MP tabled an 11th-hour compromise amendment to the bill on Monday night, calling on the government to back his bid to prevent a “no-deal” Brexit.
Here are the 13 amendments, and what to expect from them, as the key votes take place:
1. Enhanced protection for certain areas of EU legislation
This amendment stops the Government changing any EU law relating to the environment, consumers and employment without putting it before MPs first. It contains the caveat that MPs can examine changes in smaller groups – meaning they won’t be held up by scrutiny in the Commons chamber.
2. ‘Charter of Fundamental Rights’
The charter covers a range of rights – such as a right to life, freedom of religion, and fair working conditions – and is the yardstick against which all EU law is drawn up against. The Government believes there is no need to copy over the charter as it merely repeats much of UK law. Former Conservative Attorney General Dominic Grieve has led the charge on keeping the charter on the statute books after Brexit.
3. ‘Powers of legal challenge’
This amendment takes the power away from ministers to decide when law brought back from the EU can be changed. Without this amendment, the Government could theoretically agree to keeping the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and then immediately challenge it after Brexit.
4. ‘Legal compliance’
Citizens would be able to challenge any domestic laws introduced if it seriously went against the EU laws copied over after Brexit.
This would place a greater limit on so-called Henry VIII powers, which allows ministers to change bits of law without consulting MPs first. This amendment would see the conditions for such a move change from “if appropriate” to “if necessary.”
6. ‘Meaningful role for Parliament at end of negotiations’
One of the biggest changes to the bill, and would have a dramatic impact on Brexit. This amendment strengthens the role Parliament plays in the negotiations. The Government has already agreed to give MPs a meaningful vote, but under this change, if the final deal is voted down, Parliament would be able to dictate the direction of any future negotiations.
7. ‘Mandating negotiations’
Theresa May would have to get approval from Parliament before beginning negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
8. ‘Refugee family reunion rights’
This would ensure the Government has to work to keep the rule that unaccompanied child refugees in an EU state can come to the UK if they have relatives here.
9. ‘Northern Ireland’
Getting to the crux of the Irish border issue, this amendment would require the Government to act in keeping with the Good Friday Agreement. Any new border arrangements could only be implemented if agreed with the Irish Government.
Bizarrely, this amendment actually returns the Government to its original position that the date of withdrawal from the EU wouldn’t be locked into the bill. This was originally changed following pressure in the Commons from Brexit-backing MPs who wanted to ensure the date of departure was written into law. This amendment would see the fixed exit date removed, which some believe gives the UK more flexibility in negotiations.
Would keep the UK in the European Economic Area – the so-called Norway model.
12. ‘Sifting of Brexit-related regulations’
This would see a committee introduced to scrutinise all changes to Brexit regulations, with the recommendations being binding on ministers.
13. ‘Environmental protections’
The Government would effectively still be bound by EU laws on environmental protections.