LONDON, U.K. - Avoiding what would have been a humiliating House of Commons defeat, the U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May managed to win a crucial vote on the final Brexit deal.
On Tuesday, the U.K. government agreed to give the parliament more power over its Brexit negotiations, after MPs voted by 324 votes to 298 – a majority of 26 – to reject the amendment passed in the Lords.
The amendment would have enabled parliament to take charge of the Brexit negotiating strategy if MPs voted against the Brexit deal in the autumn.
The rebel Conservative MPs, who had earlier threatened to vote against the government, were offered “significant concessions” from the government, minutes before the vote after which, they agreed to lend their numbers to overturn the amendment.
Earlier, May warned anti-Brexit Tory rebels that if they defied her and backed the Lords’ amendments it would weaken Britain’s hand at the negotiating table.
The amendment would have given MPs the power to tell the Prime Minister to go back and renegotiate the Brexit deal.
It was one of 15 amendments that peers made to the bill as it passes through the upper chamber.
Speaking before the key vote, May said, “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.”
She warned, “But if the Lords amendments are allowed to stand, that negotiating position will be undermined.”
Meanwhile, Brexit minister David Davis told the parliament earlier that a government defeat would undermine negotiations with Brussels and warned MPs the government would never allow them to “reverse Brexit.”
Davis said, “The government cannot demonstrate the flexibility necessary for a successful deal if its hands are tied midway through that process.”
Then, as the atmosphere got tense, in a last ditch attempt to convince the rebel MPs, ten minutes before they cast their votes, May offered significant last-minute concessions.
The concessions could give MPs a bigger say on the final withdrawal agreement and will also make a ‘no-deal’ exit much less likely.
However, while May managed to defeat the rebellion over Brexit plans, earlier in the day, she suffered a major blow after Junior Justice Minister Phillip Lee quit over Brexit.
He announced on Twitter, “I am incredibly sad to have had to announce my resignation as a minister in Her Majesty’s Government so that I can better speak up for my constituents and country over how Brexit is currently being delivered. If, in the future, I am to look my children in the eye and honestly say that I did my best for them I cannot, in all good conscience, support how our country’s current exit from the EU looks set to be delivered.”
Lee, who has long been critical of the government’s Brexit strategy, has argued, “It is fundamentally important that parliament should have a voice so that it can influence the final outcome in the interests of the people that it serves.”
While May’s plans to end more than 40 years of membership in the bloc remain on track, her concession to parliament means that MPs now have more power if she fails to secure a Brexit deal.
This is feared to lead to a softer approach to Britain’s divorce.
Following the vote, the pound strengthened 0.3 percent against the dollar to $1.3424 and hit a two-day high versus the euro of 87.78 pence.
Now, rebels have said that they will challenge May’s plans to leave the customs union during votes on other bills, on trade and customs, which will be brought back to the house before July 24.
The EU is expecting May to make progress by a June summit and both sides are hoping to reach a deal by October.