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13 December 2017

What does a meaningful parliamentary vote on Brexit actually look like?

Clue: not what the government is suggesting. 

By Eloise Todd

On Wednesday, David Davis wrote an early morning letter to Conservative MPs promising that the government would guarantee a vote in Parliament in October 2018 on the deal it will have negotiated with the EU. These promises are not worth the paper they are written on. MPs are due to vote this evening on an amendment put forward by former Attorney General and Conservative MP Dominic Grieve to ensure Parliament gets a meaningful vote on the final deal the government agrees with EU negotiators.

The amendment has wide cross-party support, including, we hope around 15 Conservative MPs – enough to potentially defeat the government.

If the government is sincere in what it says, not to mention keen to avoid an embarrassing defeat, it should just accept Dominic Grieve’s Amendment 7, which truly guarantees a meaningful vote by writing it into the EU Withdrawal Bill itself.

Grieve’s Amendment 7 makes the powers the government wants to give itself via the EU Withdrawal Bill to carry out Brexit conditional on a vote in Parliament. This means MPs would be able to decide whether to approve whatever deal Theresa May comes up with in negotiations with the EU.

Amendment 7 makes a legal guarantee that the government has to listen to what Parliament has to say. At present, the EU Withdrawal Bill gives those powers to the government without any oversight. The fact the government won’t accept Amendment 7 proves it does not really care about parliamentary sovereignty. It wants the vote next October to be ornamental and meaningless – a rubber stamp on whatever it has already decided.

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Its unwillingness to listen to Parliament and even to its MPs shows just how fragile this government is. A sensible amendment like this should be easy for it to accept and incorporate into its plans.

Instead, it is attempting to stage a shambolic and pointless battle of wills with Conservative moderates who support the amendment. While Davis has been applying a soft touch, Chief Whip Julian Smith has been reportedly been readying a sharpened carrot overnight, trying everything from cajoling to arm-twisting to force the moderates back under thumb.

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What’s even more shameful than this whole shambles is the government’s decision to give back the whip last night to Anne Marie Morris – the Conservative MP suspended for the last five months for disgusting racist remarks – in order to boost its numbers in the vote this evening.

Moderate Conservative and even some waivering Labour MPs need to stand firm this evening against these dirty tactics and ensure a meaningful vote is written into law.

Eloise Todd is the chief executive at Best for Britain, which is campaigning for a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal. Follow her @eloisetodd.