MPs vote to take over control of Brexit process

Written by Kevin Schofield on 26 March 2019 in News

Commons voted 329 to 302 in favour of former Tory minister Sir Oliver Letwin's amendment, paving the way for a series of so-called "indicative votes" on Wednesday afternoon

Image credit: PA

MPs have voted to take over control of the Brexit process from Theresa May's beleaguered government.

In yet another humiliation for the Prime Minister, the Commons voted 329 to 302 in favour of former Tory minister Sir Oliver Letwin's amendment, paving the way for a series of so-called "indicative votes" on Wednesday afternoon.

They will give MPs the chance to vote on a range of different Brexit scenarios with the aim of securing a majority for the way ahead.

Three ministers - Richard Harrington, Steve Brine and Alistair Burt - all resigned from the Government in order to vote for the Letwin amendment.

In all, 30 Conservative MPs rebelled against the Prime Minister to vote for the Letwin amendment.

May's latest Commons defeat came despite her de facto deputy, David Lidington, earlier telling the House that the Government would make time available for MPs to debate alternatives to the Prime Minister's deal.

The Government had also claimed that allowing MPs to dictate the Parliamentary timetable instead of ministers was unconstitutional.

But in a debate on his amendment, Sir Oliver said: "The idea that it's an ancient constitutional principle that the Government should control the order paper is slightly anhistorical, if that's the right word, because it started in 1906, which as far as I'm aware is not part of our ancient constitution."

He said his amendment "provides an opportunity for the House of Commons to begin the process of working its way towards identifying a way forward that commands a majority in this House".

Winding up the debate for Labour, Shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman blamed the Prime Minister for the Brexit deadlock.

She said: "At every turn she has made a crisis of her own making even worse. But enough is enough. There is a void where coherent leadership is supposed to be, so tonight Parliament must step into that void to find a consensus and to find the best way through."

But pleading with MPs to reject Sir Oliver's amendment, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said: "The central question before the House this evening is who controls the order paper - whether control is passed to backbench members of this House or if members across this House accept the assurances given (by David Lidington) that the Government will make time available this week for members to express their preference on the way forward."

He added: "It is the Prime Minister's deal that is the way to delier what the people voted for in 2016 and 2017. That is why it is right that the Government maintains control of the order paper in line with constitutional convention and why the amendments should be defeated."

In a statement after the vote, a DexEU spokesperson said: "It is disappointing to see this amendment pass, as the Government made a clear commitment to provide a process to find a majority in Parliament for a way forward this week.

"This amendment instead upends the balance between our democratic institutions and sets a dangerous, unpredictable precedent for the future.

"While it is now up to Parliament to set out next steps in respect of this amendment, the Government will continue to call for realism – any options considered must be deliverable in negotiations with the EU.

"Parliament should take account of how long these negotiations would take, and if they’d require a longer extension which would mean holding European Parliamentary elections."

May had earlier sparked anger by claiming that she may not implement any alternative Brexit plan which wins the backing of the majority of MPs.

“I must confess that I am sceptical about such a process of indicative votes.

"When we have tried this kind of thing in the past, it has produced contradictory outcomes or no outcome at all. There is a further risk when it comes to Brexit, as the UK is only one half of the equation and the votes could lead to an outcome that is unnegotiable with the EU.

"No government could give a blank cheque to commit to an outcome without knowing what it is.

"So I cannot commit the Government to delivering the outcome of any votes held by this House. But I do commit to engaging constructively with this process."

But Ian Blackford, the SNP's leader at Westminster, said the Prime Minister was turning Parliament into a "puppet show".

He said: "Will the Prime Minister tell us, do our votes count? Are they binding on the Government, or is this just a puppet show?

"If that is the case, this is the greatest assault on democracy inflicted by any Prime Minister, and if Members of Parliament are prepared to tolerate that, then shame on them."

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