MPs are set to stage an audacious power grab on Tuesday which could completely change the Government’s Brexit strategy.
A crunch vote is set to be held in the Commons which could see Parliament – not the Prime Minister – set the terms for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The change to the Government’s so-called ‘meaningful vote’ plan would mean that if MPs rejected the Brexit deal struck with Brussels, it would be Parliament which decides the future negotiating aims of the UK.
That could mean the UK’s membership of the EU’s customs union and Single Market are back in play – despite being ruled out by Theresa May.
Under the proposal, already approved by the House of Lords, Parliament would also seize control of the negotiations if the clock runs out and no deal is reached by March 29 2019 – the day of Brexit.
With the Government’s working majority standing at just 13 – and that is only thanks to the DUP’s support – it would only take a handful of rebels to defeat May, with the vote expected at around 4pm.
On Monday evening May issued a plea to her MPs not to defy party orders, telling Tories: “We must think about the message Parliament will send to the European Union this week.
“I am trying to negotiate the best deal for Britain.
“I am confident I can get a deal that allows us to strike our own trade deals while having a border with the EU which is as frictionless as possible.
“But if the Lords amendments are allowed to stand, that negotiating position will be undermined.”
The Lords defeated the Government on 15 amendments to the Withdrawal Bill, although May has now accepted one of the changes which will ensure the UK can continue to take part in certain EU agencies.
On Monday evening May appeared to make another concession, this time on an amendment which calls on the Government to report the steps it has taken to negotiate a customs union with the EU.
The fear from Downing Street is that it would send the signal to Brussels that the UK’s negotiating stance - which had always ruled out a customs union - is softening.
A compromise seems to have been reached, which will see the Government report back on talks around a customs arrangement with the EU - a long standing aim.
If that compromise buys off the rebels, that leaves the Government with 13 amendments to overturn.
1) Enhanced protection for certain areas of EU legislation
This amendment stops the Government changing any EU law relating to the environment, consumers and employment without putting it before MPs first. It contains the caveat that MPs can examine changes in smaller groups – meaning they won’t be held up by scrutiny in the Commons chamber.
2) ‘Charter of Fundamental Rights’
The Charter covers a range of rights – such as a right to life, freedom of religion, and fair working conditions – and is the yardstick against which all EU law is drawn up against. The Government believes there is no need to copy over the Charter as it merely repeats much of UK law. Former Conservative Attorney General Dominic Grieve has led the charge on keeping the Charter on the statute books after Brexit.
3) ‘Powers of legal challenge’
This amendment takes the power away from ministers to decide when law brought back from the EU can be changed. Without this amendment, the Government could theoretically agree to keeping the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and then immediately challenge it after Brexit.
4) ‘Legal compliance’
Citizens would be able to challenge any domestic laws introduced if it seriously went against the EU laws copied over after Brexit.
5) ‘Limiting scope of delegated (Henry VIII) powers’
This would place a greater limit on so-called Henry VIII powers, which allows ministers to change bits of law without consulting MPs first. This amendment would see the conditions for such a move change from “if appropriate” to “if necessary.”
6) ‘Meaningful role for Parliament at end of negotiations’
One of the biggest changes to the Bill, and would have a dramatic impact on Brexit. This amendment strengthens the role Parliament plays in the negotiations. The Government has already agreed to give MPs a meaningful vote, but under this change, if the final deal is voted down, Parliament would be able to dictate the direction of any future negotiations.
7) ‘Mandating negotiations’
Theresa May would have to get approval from Parliament before beginning negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
8) ‘Refugee family reunion rights’
This would ensure the Government has to work to keep the rule that unaccompanied child refugees in an EU state can come to the UK if they have relatives here.
9) ‘Northern Ireland’
Getting to the crux of the Irish border issue, this amendment would require the Government to act in keeping with the Good Friday Agreement. Any new border arrangements could only be implemented if agreed with the Irish Government.
10) ‘Removing fixed exit day’
Bizarrely, this amendment actually returns the Government to its original position that the date of withdrawal from the EU wouldn’t be locked into the Bill. This was originally changed following pressure in the Commons from Brexit-backing MPs who wanted to ensure the date of departure was written into law. This amendment would see the fixed exit date removed, which some believe gives the UK more flexibility in negotiations.
Would keep the UK in the European Economic Area – the so-called Norway model.
12) ‘Sifting of Brexit-related regulations’
This would see a committee introduced to scrutinise all changes to Brexit regulations, with the recommendations being binding on ministers.
13) ‘Environmental protections’
The Government would effectively still be bound by EU laws on environmental protections.