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8 February 2017

Take back control? Only if you’re Theresa May – MPs now have less influence on Brexit

MPs have left themselves no real power to influence the Brexit talks. 

By Stephen Bush

Theresa May secured a complete victory in the Commons last night. Not a single amendments to the Brexit Bill was passed last, thanks to the support of the Conservatives and the DUP. Although there were big names among the list of Tory rebels – Ken Clarke, Anna Soubry and Andrew Tyrie – Downing Street managed to buy off the bulk of the rebels with a “concession” of a vote on the final deal.

As I wrote yesterday, the choice that the government has offered is one of the deal that the PM secures – or no deal at all. In practice, that is not a choice worthy of the name, as there is no deal that May could bring back that will be worse than exit on WTO terms. MPs will no more be given a vote than “a kick in the head or a chicken sandwich” is a menu.

Equally importantly, MPs have no recourse to accept a deal that the PM might reject.  If we are careening towards exit without a deal, there is no way for Parliament to force May to pay that €60bn divorce bill if the rest of the deal is in Britain’s interests.

Now it is over to the Lords. But if the government is vulnerable there, it will likely to be in areas where May has little elite or public support: for example, over the refusal to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU citizens already living and working in Britain. They might also have some success in codifying the government’s concession of a vote on a deal.

Still, it looks highly likely that May will secure total control over the British end of the Brexit talks. MPs have voted to let her take the credit, but accepted a concession which means they will share the blame. 

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