Over the next two days MPs will be voting on the EU Withdrawal Bill – commonly known as the Brexit Bill.
The legislation facilitates Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and is one of the most important pieces of legislation debated by Parliament. Over today and tomorrow, Theresa May faces one of the toughest tests of her premiership so far as she tried to navigate the legislation through a series of knife-edge votes.
There are 15 Brexit Bill amendments which are being voted on by MPs in a crunch two-day Commons showdown.
The House of Lords drew up the changes when they debated the Bill last month because they want to change the way the Government is negotiating Brexit.
Changes being voted on include proposals to try to keep the UK in the EU single market and customs union in a move which would mean the UK would have to keep free movement.
Brexiteers say the changes are wrecking amendments designed to thwart Brexit and bind the Government’s hands in the talks.
Theresa May has scrambled to try to bargain with Tory rebels to ensure they don’t revolt against her in the knife-edge votes.
What are the most important amendments ?
There are two crucial amendments which the Government feared it would face defeat on.
The first, debated today, was to give MPs a ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit deal. This would effectively have allowed MPs to seize of the negotiations if Theresa May failed to reach a deal by December.
The second is an amendment to try to force the UK to seek to stay in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
Mrs May has explicitly ruled this out as it would effectively stop Britain from being bale to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries.
What happened this evening?
The PM narrowly avoided a humiliating rebellion on the amendment demanding a meaningful vote by making a last-ditch concession to Tory rebels.
No10 promised MPs they will get a vote on the Brexit pans in November, or if the Government walks away from negotiations. It remains unclear at this stage what significance this vote will have
Mrs May also managed to thrash out an eleventh hour agreement with some Tory rebels on the customs union amendment.
Brokered last night, it calls for ministers to seek a customs agreement with the EU – not a union. The change is far more than one of just language as it effectively means the UK can seek to set up different trade deals outside the Brussels bloc.
This amendment is being voted on tomorrow, and it remains to be seen if it has succeeded in peeling enough would-be rebels away from the revolt.
But the issue has just been kicked down the road as Remainers have said they will mount a fresh push to try to keep the UK in a customs union with Brussels when the Trade and Customs Bills come to Parliament next month
What does that means for Theresa May?
The picture is mixed.
After weeks of speculation Mrs May could face two humiliating defeats in the Commons on the Bill – dealing her a heavy blow in the middle of Brexit talks – it looks like she has avoided all out defeat in the Commons.
But it appears she has been forced to make a major concession to Tory rebels by giving MPs a vote on the Brexit deal later this year.
She has another battle on her hands when the issue of the UK’s customs arrangements with the EU returns to parliament for debate next month.
What happens next?
If the PM is successful at axing all of the 15 Lords amendments from the Bill and replacing them with her own then the Bill goes back to the House of Lords on Monday.
Peers will then get the chance to agree with them, or reject them and send them back to the Commons for debate. This back and forth, known as ‘ping pong’ continues until both Chambers agree.
Here are the crucial amendments being voted on:
Remainers have been fighting to ensure that they are not left with a choice between accepting whatever package the government thrashes out with the EU, or crashing out without any deal.
The government has already committed that there will be a vote on the terms reached with Brussels.
But the amendment passed by the Lords would effectively give parliament power to dictate subsequent talks if it rejects the deal.
That would be a major break from the existing constitutional position – which gives the executive control over negotiating treaties.
Tory MP Dominic Grieve has put forward a compromise amendment that would force ministers to come up with a new plan, and then put that before parliament for approval.
However, government sources have insisted they will not accept the plan.
The Lords amendment orders ministers to ‘outline’ to parliament how they will negotiate to ‘continue participating in a customs union’ after Brexit.
The idea is that it would force Mrs May to change approach and keep the UK lashed to the bloc – although the effect would be largely political is unclear as it would not be binding.
Ministers appear to have delayed a confrontation with Tory rebels by tabling a compromise amendment that would commit the government to seeking a customs ‘arrangement’.
EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AREA:
The Lords inserted this demand for the UK to stay in the EU single market against the wishes of both the Tory and Labour front benches.
It spells out that the government should be seeking a Norway-style deal with the EU – potentially meaning free movement would stay in place.
This amendment has no chance of surviving in the Commons. However, Jeremy Corbyn is facing a major rebellion by his MPs, dozens of whom have called for EEA membership to be retained after Brexit.
The government has specified the date of Brexit as March 29, 2019 – as laid down by the Article 50 process.
But Remainers would like to see the date taken out of the Bill to make it easier to extend negotiations if a deal is not reached.
Tory rebels are not focused on this change and it would not be mission critical for the government, but ministers are expecting to avoid defeat.