Conservative rebels voted with Labour MPs last night to reject major parts of the Brexit bill, delivering the government’s first major defeat on the subject.
The bill, which sought to grant ministers sweeping powers to sign major Brexit provisions into law without the oversight of MPs, was voted down by 309 to 305.
Had it won support for the provisions the government would have been able to enact Brexit without a vote. They will only be able to ‘subject to the prior enactment of a statute by parliament approving the final terms of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union’.
That is widely interpreted as ensuring that MPs will have a substantive say in the shape of a final Brexit deal.
In a statement, the Department for Exiting the EU said: ‘We are disappointed that parliament has voted for this amendment despite the strong assurances that we have set out.
‘We are as clear as ever that this bill, and the powers within it, are essential.
‘This amendment does not prevent us from preparing our statute book for exit day. We will now determine whether further changes are needed to the bill to ensure it fulfils its vital purpose.’
The Labour Whips’ office claimed that a dozen Tory MPs, led by former attorney general Dominic Grieve, had voted against the government.
Speaking to Sky News ahead of the vote, Grieve had said: The government needs to listen to what’s being said to them. And at the moment, unfortunately, my impression of the last few days, when I’ve been talking to the government, is that it seems to be a bit of a dialogue of the deaf.
‘They’ve turned this into a battle of wills. And this is a completely pointless exercise. They need to listen to the point that’s being made and they need to respond to it.
‘I have no desire to defeat my government at all. I’m not a rebel. I think I have only rebelled once, over a local issue, in the 21 years I’ve been in parliament.’