Theresa May faces multiple rebellions over EU withdrawal bill

Theresa May PM meeting with European Parliament President

Theresa May will face multiple rebellions over her EU withdrawal bill next month, as Conservative MPs table amendments aimed at softening the government’s Brexit plan. Tory MPs will challenge the use of Henry VIII powers, call for a vote on the final terms of Brexit and demand the retention of the charter of fundamental rights.

Nine Conservative MPs, including Nicky Morgan, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry, are backing a series of changes, raising the possibility of defeats for the prime minister.

In a challenge to their leader’s Brexit plan, the rebel MPs want to ensure the UK retains the EU’s charter of fundamental rights and require that a final deal with the EU be approved by parliament.

Rebels include Ken Clarke, Antoinette Sandbach, Stephen Hammond, Sarah Wollaston, Jeremy Lefroy and Robert Neill, meaning May would only have the slimmest of majorities.

Curbing Henry VIII powers – which allow ministers to amend EU legislation when it is transposed into UK law without a parliamentary vote and detailed scrutiny – is likely to cause May more difficulties.

These amendments are backed by normally loyal Tory MPs, such as John Penrose, Vicky Ford and Tom Tugendhat. It is understood a number of hardline Brexit supporters are expected to back some amendments, meaning May is likely to be forced into making a concession.

Penrose, who is on the committee of the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory backbenchers, which includes dozens of the party’s most ardent Brexiters, said: “The current draft of the repeal bill gives lots of power to ministers so we can deliver Brexit, which is essential, but it cuts parliament’s role right down.

“If Brexit is supposed to take back control of our laws, it’s pretty hard to argue that the small number of genuinely important and substantive changes should simply be waved through parliament without thorough debate.”

Although other ERG members are supporting May’s legislation, some have privately expressed support for Penrose’s position, with one senior figure telling the Guardian they had not campaigned for Brexit in order for it to turn into a “power grab”.

The government won an early-hours vote on the second reading of the bill, which seeks to bring EU laws and regulations into British statute, by 326 votes to 290, with a handful of Labour MPs defying orders to oppose the measures.

However, 157 amendments to the EU withdrawal bill, covering 59 pages, have already been published so far, with those tabled by backbenchers likely to receive the most cross-party support at the next stage of its Commons journey. The bill is likely to return to parliament for further scrutiny by MPs after party conferences in October.

A number of opposition backbenchers have tabled amendments aimed at guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and forcing parliamentary votes on the UK staying in the single market via the European Economic Area and the customs union, among other issues.

The Labour frontbench has also tabled its own series of amendments to strip away sections of the bill that the party says grant ministers sweeping and arbitrary powers.

Those tabled by Labour include plans to strip out the bulk of the Henry VIII powers, including deleting a clause which lets ministers amend any legislation affected by Brexit by decree.

The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, said it would be quicker for the government to start the bill all over again.

He said: “Instead, she [May] has adopted her normal blinkered approach and forced through a bill that will need extensive amendment and improvement in a whole range of areas.

“This is likely to cause delays and division in parliament, and the prime minister has nobody to blame but herself.”

Overnight, May had claimed a significant Brexit victory after the votes and abstentions of more than a dozen Labour MPs helped her attain a majority of 36.

The prime minister called it a “historic decision to back the will of the British people” and said the vote would give clarity and certainty through the Brexit process.

“Although there is more to do, this decision means we can move on with negotiations with solid foundations and we continue to encourage MPs from all parts of the UK to work together in support of this vital piece of legislation,” she said.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason and Peter Walker, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 12th September 2017 15.31 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010