The Prime Minister was forced to release the full text of legal advice on the agreement after MPs voted for the first time in history to hold the Government in contempt for resisting the will of the Commons. And in a further blow that cast serious doubts over the country’s scheduled departure from the EU next March, the Commons also backed a rebel amendment giving MPs to power to set the next steps if she loses next week’s crunch vote on her deal. The three shattering votes severely dented Mrs May’s authority just days before the historic division about whether to support her agreement with the EU.
But she hit back by accusing her opponents of seeking to wreck her plan for Brexit and keep Britain firmly tied to Brussels.
Opening a five-day Commons Brexit deal last night, the Prime Minister said: “I know there are some in this House and in the country who would prefer a closer relationship with the European Union than the one I’m proposing, indeed who would prefer the relationship that we currently have and want another referendum.
“Although I profoundly disagree, they are arguing for what they believe is right for our country and I respect that.
“But the hard truth is that we will not settle this issue and bring our country together that way and I ask them to think what it would say to the 52% who came out to vote Leave in many cases for the first time in decades if their decision were ignored.”
She added: “I think it is very important that all of us in this House recognise what this parliament did. This parliament overwhelmingly voted to give the choice of membership of the EU to the British people. The people voted, they voted to leave, I believe it is incumbent on us to deliver that Brexit and I believe it is a matter for trust in politicians and in this House that we do indeed deliver on that Brexit.”
“We can deliver that brighter future for this country with a deal that delivers a good relationship with Europe but also enables us to have those other trade deals around the rest of the world as well.”
The Prime Minister was forced to release the full text of legal advice on the agreement
The Prime Minister later pledged to give Parliament a “greater and more formal role” in the UK’s forthcoming negotiations with the EU over future trade but declined to say whether MPs would get a vote on that deal.
She said: “I want to build the broadest possible consensus both within this House and across the country, so for the next stage of negotiations we will ensure a greater and more formal role for Parliament.”
Downing Street aides insisted the Prime Minister was determined to battle to win next week’s vote.
A senior Tory source said: “The entire focus of the Prime Minister’s argument is the importance of winning the meaningful vote. That is our focus and that is what we intend to do.”
Opposition MPs roared with delight after the Government was defeated by 311 votes to 293 in yesterday’s division on a motion proposing that ministers in contempt of Parliament for resisting a previous vote earlier this year in favour of releasing the full text of advice from Government lawyers about her Brexit deal.
Instead, officials had released a 47-page summary of the legal advice earlier this week.
Two Tory MPs, Leave-supporting backbenchers Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone, defied the Prime Minister by voting against the Government.
An attempt by ministers to try to refer the issue to the Commons Privileges Committee was also rejected in a vote by MPs.
Following the defeats, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom announced the full text will be released to MPs. She promised to respond to the vote tomorrow.
She told MPs: “We’ve tested the opinion of the House twice on this very serious subject.
“We’ve listened carefully and in light of the expressed will of the House we will publish the final and full advice provided by the Attorney General to Cabinet but recognising the very serious constitutional issues this raises I have referred the matter to the privileges committee to consider the implications of the humble address.”
Mrs May’s 10 parliamentary allies in the Democratic Unionist Party voted against the Government on the contempt motion.
And he DUP’s Westminster leader has said he would be “happy” to have another general election to prove the party has support in Northern Ireland for blocking the PM’s Brexit deal
Nigel Dodds said: “In terms of the views of the people of Northern Ireland I’m quite happy to put it to a test any time.
“We will happily go to the electorate and put our views to the people if needs be, and I’m quite certain we would be returned in greater numbers than today.”
Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom
The deal before us would make our country worse off
Within an hour of the defeat on the contempt motion, the Government lost a further vote when MPs backed an amendment by pro-Brussels Tory Dominic Grieve seeking to strengthen the power of the Commons over the final Brexit outcome. It was approved by 321 votes to 299, a majority of 22.
His measure will mean MPs will be able to amend a statement by the Government about Brexit that ministers are legally obliged to make within 21 days if the Prime Minister’s Brussels deal is rejected next Tuesday.
Twenty-five Tory MPs MPs rebelled to support Mr Grieve’s amendment, including former ministers Sir Michael Fallon, Ken Clarke and Justine Greening.
Derek Thomas, another Tory, abstained in the vote.
Sir Oliver Letwin, supporting Mr Grieve’s amendment, said the measure could mean the Commons being given the chance to vote for a Norway-style EU deal with the UK retaining close links to the bloc.
Amid angry clashes as the debate about the Brexit deal began last night, Tory MP Bob Seely warned the Brexit deal must be voted through or Parliament “will be in contempt of the British people”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
He said: “It is unfortunate for Government to be in contempt of Parliament.
“Would she agree that it is worse for Parliament to be in contempt of the British people, which is what will happen if we do not deliver on Brexit?”
But Brexiteere Tory MP Anne Marie Morris warned the Prime Minister that her deal would mean the UK would be “stuck with the same rule base that we have in the EU”.
Mrs May replied: “I don’t agree with the analysis that she’s just given in relation to the agreement.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed: “The deal before us would make our country worse off.”
He added: “The Government has spent more time arguing with itself than it did in negotiating with the EU.”
Finishing her speech, Mrs May told MPs: “We should not let the search for a perfect Brexit prevent a good Brexit that delivers for the British people.”
Urging them to back her, she finished her 66-minute stint on her feet by saying: “So I promise you today this is the very best deal for the British people, I ask you to back it in the best interests of our constituents and our country.
“And with my whole heart I commend this motion to the House.”
During the debate, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson branded Mrs May’s deal “a democratic disaster”.
He said: “It is a national humiliation that makes a mockery of Brexit.”
Mr Johnson also claimed the deal “will keep us in permanent captivity”.
He added: “It will be a reminder to the rest of the world of what happens to anyone who tries to leave the EU.”
Mr Johnson said described Mrs May’s deal as “a paint and plaster pseudo Brexit” that camouflaged continuing Brussels rule over the UK.
“If we vote for this deal, we will not be taking back control but losing control.”