UK ministers battle to win over rebel MPs on Brexit deal

Theresa May
Theresa May

London : UK ministers were set to battle on Wednesday in an attempt to win over rebel MPs on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal, a day after the government suffered three parliamentary defeats on key votes.

The start of a five-day debate on May’s deal was delayed by several hours on Tuesday as MPs, in a first defeat for the Prime Minister, passed a historic motion finding the government in contempt of Parliament for failing to publish in full the legal advice on Brexit, the BBC reported.

A crunch vote on May’s Brexit deal is scheduled to take place next week while her ministers will plough on with attempts to win over MPs on Wednesday, with eight hours of debate on the security and immigration aspects of the withdrawal agreement.

The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, called the defeats a “badge of shame” for the government.

“By treating Parliament with contempt, the government has proved it has lost its majority and the respect of the house. The Prime Minister can’t keep pushing Parliament away or avoiding responsible scrutiny,” he said.

In a second defeat, the government lost a bid to have the legal advice issue dealt with separately by the Privileges Committee of MPs.

With May still waiting to open the formal debate, MPs then inflicted a third defeat, passing a cross-party amendment tabled by MPs including Dominic Grieve aimed at strengthening the hand of Parliament if the deal gets voted down.

Supporters of a second referendum on May’s deal cheered the move, which they said would allow them to demonstrate Parliament’s support for alternatives to the Prime Minister’s approach.

Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper told the BBC he expected May to lose the crunch vote on her Brexit deal scheduled to take place on December 11 where MPs will decide whether to reject or accept the agreement.

Harper, who backed Remain in the referendum told the Daily Telegraph he would vote against the withdrawal agreement and predicted the deal would be rejected by 80 of his party colleagues.

The deal has been endorsed by EU leaders but must also be backed by the UK Parliament if it is to come into force.

The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019. Ministers say that if MPs reject their deal they increase the chances of Britain leaving without a deal, or not leaving the EU at all.

Harper urged May to renegotiate the deal, insisting the current plan would leave the UK worse off.

Meanwhile, May was expected to continue trying to convince small groups of her MPs to back the plan in private meetings.

“I promise you today that this is the very best deal for the British people and I ask you to back it in the best interest of our constituents and our country,” she told the Commons on Tuesday.


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