Pro-European MPs can win meaningful vote battle in ‘ping pong’

by Hugo Dixon | 13.06.2018

If Theresa May backtracks on the meaningful vote concession she gave pro-European Tory rebels yesterday, the “‘mutineers” have enough votes to force her hand. They merely need to wait for the House of Lords to have its say again and pick up the legislation when it returns to the House of Commons in what is known as “ping pong”.

The prime minister gave assurances to about 15 MPs that she would accept the thrust of Dominic Grieve’s amendment. It was on the basis of this concession that potential rebels such as Heidi Allen, Antoinette Sandbach and Sarah Wollaston – as well as Phillip Lee who had just resigned as a government minister over the issue – decided not to vote against the government.

Grieve’s amendment has three parts:

  • if MPs reject the government’s Brexit deal, it must seek their approval for its new approach within four weeks.
  • if the government has no deal by end-November, the government must seek MPs’ approval for what it plans to do.
  • if there is still no deal by February 15 (six weeks before Brexit day), MPs can tell it what to do.

Allen tweeted that the government had agreed to integrate the first two parts in a new amendment that it would propose when the EU Withdrawal Bill returns to the House of Lords next week – and to have discussions on the third point.

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Brexiters told The Sun that the prime minister had promised the rebels nothing but a discussion. “If Theresa has sold us out here she is in real trouble. There is no way she can recover if she has f***ed us over.”

Pressure from hard Brexiters may explain why Robert Buckland, the solicitor-general who helped broker the deal with pro-Europeans, told the BBC that there had been no guarantee just a commitment to “further discussions” to try to find a way forward.

As signs of backtracking emerged, Grieve told BBC Newsnight he expected the prime minister to “honour her commitments”, saying “if it were to turn out there was a problem, we will deal with it.”

The simplest way of dealing with any backsliding would probably be for the House of Lords to push through Grieve’s amendment, or some version of it. Grieve and his gang, which now number at least 20 according to The Sun, could then back the amendment when the legislation goes back to the House of Commons.

The government’s retreat yesterday is good news. MPs will almost certainly get a meaningful vote at the end of the Brexit talks – and that could pave the way for a people’s vote on the final deal. But pro-Europeans can’t celebrate quite yet. There’s more work to do to hold the prime minister to her promises.