UK Prime Minister Theresa May averted a revolt by pro-European lawmakers in her party, dodging what threatened to be a major political crisis. Now the focus shifts to the price of the rebels’ compliance, and another fight looms.
Some Conservative lawmakers had been pushing for an amendment that would have given Parliament unprecedented powers over the premier’s Brexit strategy. They stood down after May personally intervened to promise them a last-minute compromise.
The two sides aren’t yet clear on the exact terms of their deal, but it looks likely that lawmakers will emerge with a greater role. That probably means
the chances of Britain walking away from the bloc without a deal have receded. The pound rallied.
May won the vote after last-minute horse-trading, some of it in the open on the floor of the House of Commons — some behind closed doors. As the clock ticked down to Tuesday’s knife-edge vote, the prime minister met a group of roughly 15 Tory rebels in her private office. She pledged to take their concerns into account if they called off their revolt.
May’s reprieve might be shortlived. At stake is her Brexit strategy and her ability to hold her party together as she fights to deliver a divorce deal in the next 10 months. She has a history of lurching from crisis to crisis, surviving by making concessions to whichever wing of her party threatens her survival.
It’s become something of a fixture in British politics for showdowns to end with a fudge that allows all sides to claim victory, but the pressure of the UK’s impending departure
from the EU next March means the time left for further delays is limited.
Now the chances are increasing that Parliament will get a greater say over the process. And lawmakers overwhelmingly want to keep close ties to Europe.
“At the start of this process we had no vote in Parliament on the final deal at all. Now we have a real vote and an opportunity for Parliament to influence and approve the final deal,” Nicky Morgan, a high-profile lawmaker who wants to maintain close EU ties, said in an interview. “But there is more work to do, which is why this is not yet over.”
The two sides have different versions of what the concession amounts to — and just how much power Parliament will have. The rebels say they were offered enough to be reassured that May will give them a binding say over the direction of Brexit, but one government official said the offer was just for “a discussion.”
“We have agreed to look for a compromise,” the UK Brexit Ministry said in a statement. “We have not, and will not, agree to the House of Commons binding the Government’s hands in the negotiations.”
Brexit Secretary David Davis has set out three tests that any compromise clause will need to meet if the government is to support it. Critically, he won’t back anything that seeks to reverse Brexit, or undermine the UK’s chance of success in the negotiations with the EU, the statement said.
The rebels potentially have an ace up their sleeve as they go into talks with the government: if May reneges on her pledge, pro-EU members of the House of Lords will amend her legislation again. And the fight would be replayed.
If May doesn’t deliver on her promises, “the goodwill will be gone,” leading rebel Dominic Grieve told lawmakers.
Government officials will now sit down with rebels and draft a new amendment to the bill. The row focused on a proposed rewording which would have given Parliament the power to direct Brexit negotiations if talks in Brussels break down without a deal.
May objected because she said it would tie her hands in the negotiations. Brexit-backers complained it would have all-but removed the no-deal nuclear option from negotiators’ arsenal. Brexit supporters will be watching closely to see what concessions the government finally offers to rebels.