Ministers win key Brexit bill vote after concession

Jeremy Corbyn

If the government avoids defeat, is Brexit a done deal?

If May is defeated in the House of Commons, it will be yet another blow to a prime minister whose authority has been challenged several times since she lost the Conservative Party's majority in an ill-judged election past year.

MPs voted 324 to 298 to reject the proposal, which had come to parliament after the Lords brought amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.

The issue of a "meaningful vote" is set to be a flashpoint in the Commons, with ministers seeking to overturn a Lords amendment which would give Parliament extensive powers to direct ministers how to proceed if a deal with Brussels is rejected by MPs or no deal is reached.

Theresa May ultimately persuaded all but two of her MPs to back her in the decisive vote in Westminster on Tuesday - but she increasingly appears little more than a hostage to the warring factions in a bitterly divided Conservative party. That has potentially seismic consequences for the protracted and increasingly messy split from Brussels.

The government is resisting the changes, which are aimed at softening the terms of the U.K.'s exit from the European Union.

Earlier May suffered a setback when junior justice minister Phillip Lee, who has always been critical of Brexit strategy, resigned and said he would vote against the government.

Sarah Wollaston warned that any government amendment added to the bill when it returns to the House of Lords "must closely reflect Dominic Grieve's amendment".

The text needs to honor her pledge to pro-EU Tories that she'll take account of their concerns over the possibility of leaving the bloc without a deal.

The Prime Minister met pro-EU Tories in her private room in the Commons moments before the crucial vote to hear their demands for a truly meaningful vote on the final deal.

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Speaking to a packed meeting of Tory MPs - including Chancellor Philip Hammond, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Environment Secretary Michael Gove - May said: "We must think about the message Parliament will send to the European Union this week".

The upshot of the shift may well be as dramatic as the parliamentary procedure is incomprehensible.

"They are going to work with us to put together an amendment package so when the bill goes to the Lords it will satisfy us and I have the confidence that we will come to an agreed position". "How can Boris [Johnson, the foreign secretary] and the ERG [the European Research Group of Euroskeptic MPs] live with this?"

MPs will on Wednesday debate a series of other amendments to the bill, which if passed, would seek to force May to change course and negotiate to stay inside a customs union and the single market after Brexit.

"We will be talking to the government immediately after this in order to find a common way forward".

These were the words of a minister expecting to win the vote.

Brexiteers were dejected by the turn of events, but are pinning their immediate hopes on the detail in the government's compromise.

Mr Grieve secured shock concessions from the Prime Minister to avoid an embarrassing defeat for the Government, and stated he is certain Tory rebels will "be able to get what we want" from the Brexit process.

Which side won on Tuesday will become much clearer in the next few days, when the government amendment is tabled in black and white. Yes, it's a significant compromise but we live to fight another day.

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