British Prime Minister Theresa May returned to the House of Commons yesterday after a series of stunning defeats that threaten her government and could change the course of Brexit. May was expected to take questions from MPs the day after they found her ministers in contempt over the legal advice on her EU withdrawal agreement, and gave themselves a bigger say if, as expected, the deal is rejected on December 11.
The Northern Irish party, on which the prime minister relies for support in parliament, sided with the main opposition Labour party on the contempt vote, raising serious questions about her ability to govern. Meanwhile, 25 of her own Conservative MPs voted with Labour to give the Commons the ability to decide what happens next if it votes down the Brexit deal.
“The day May lost control,” read the front page headline of the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph newspaper. In a dramatic hour on Tuesday evening, the government lost three key votes that exposed just how little support it has in the Commons, as MPs assert their power ahead of Britain’s exit from the EU in March.
Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) joined opposition MPs in two votes that found ministers in contempt of parliament for failing to publish in full the legal advice on the Brexit deal.
Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said the decision was “incredibly disappointing”, as it broke centuries of convention of keeping such advice secret, but said the document should have been published yesterday.
MPs also voted to approve an amendment tabled by Conservative former attorney general Dominic Grieve, which allows parliament to determine what happens if the deal falls. If May loses the vote next week, the government has 21 days to return to MPs to say what happens next.
Grieve’s amendment, which passed by 321 votes to 299, could allow MPs to amend that statement, raising the possibility they could demand a re-negotiation, a second referendum or even stay in the EU.
“Brexit on the brink,” headlined the Daily Mail. Brexit shambles May opened the first of five days of debate on the Brexit deal on Monday evening, with a personal plea for MPs not to sabotage the result of months of tough negotiations with the EU.
“This argument has gone on long enough. It is corrosive to our politics and life depends on compromise,” she said. The eight-hour debate, which continued until 1:00am, was characterised by heckling from all sides.