MPs vote to take control of EU withdrawal plans

Prime Minister Theresa May leaves No 10 as she heads to the House of Commons for key Brexit votes PICTURE: PA
By Press Association Political Staff

MPS have seized control of the Brexit agenda from Theresa May – potentially paving the way for a "softer" deal that keeps the UK closer to Brussels.

The Commons voted by 329 to 302 – a majority of 27 – for a cross-party amendment to enable MPs to stage a series of "indicative votes" on alternatives to the prime minister's deal.

The vote came as pro-EU ministers Richard Harrington and Alistair Burt announced they were quitting the government. They were followed by health minister Steve Brine.

Mr Harrington, a business minister, accused the the government of "playing roulette" with the lives and livelihoods of the people of Britain in its handling of Brexit.

The result is another humiliation for Mrs May, who earlier warned MPs not to "overturn the balance of our democratic institutions" which means the government normally controls business of the House.

She made clear she would not feel bound by the result of any indicative votes – which could include a "softer" Norway-style deal, or a second referendum.

"No government could give a blank cheque to commit to an outcome without knowing what it is," she said.

"So I cannot commit the government to delivering the outcome of any votes held by this House. But I do commit to engaging constructively with this process."

The amendment, tabled by former Tory cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin, was one of three Commons votes taking place last night. MPs hope the votes would allow the Commons to find a way forward for Brexit after the the prime minister's Withdrawal Agreement was rejected by parliament for the second time.

Later, MPs rejected a backbench motion aimed at preventing a no-deal. By a narrow majority of 314 to 311 MPs voted against an amendment to allow the Commons to have a vote if the UK is seven days away from leaving the EU without a deal. They later voted in favour 327 to 300 for the main amendment, which is considered to be a re-run of the Letwin amendment and calls for parliament to provide time for a majority-backed different approach to Brexit.

Following the government's defeat Tory backbencher Nigel Evans, a joint executive secretary of the influential Conservative 1922 Committee, said Theresa May should set out her plans to quit in order to get her Brexit deal through.

Nigel Evans, a joint executive secretary of the influential Conservative 1922 Committee, said Theresa May should set out her plans to quit in order to get her Brexit deal through.

"Clearly a number of people do not want the prime minister anywhere near the next phase of negotiations, which is the future trading relationship between ourselves and the EU," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.

He said there should be an "orderly" process to replace the prime minister, with a full leadership contest rather than an interim successor.

Meanwhile Sir Oliver acknowledged that any votes would be advisory rather than binding on the government and it may take several rounds of voting before a majority is found for any of the options – if one can be found at all.

He said Mrs May "hasn't been able to get a majority and we don't know what she could get a majority for, so once we find that out there is a way forward, in principle, and then the next thing would be for the prime minister to take that forward and for the government to implement it".

But he told BBC Radio 4's Today: "None of us know whether it will work."

Asked if it was possible that all options were rejected, he said: "Of course I have to accept that. I can't predict... what Parliament will do."

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