Brexit bill passed
May survives latest Brexit rebellion amid ‘cheating’ fury
Theresa May: survived to fight another day
Theresa May narrowly survived another backbench rebellion last night which could have seen the collapse of her government.
MPs narrowly rejected an amendment to a bill that could have forced the UK to remain in the EU customs union.
The Commons voted by 307 to 301 against the amendment from EU Remainers among the Tory ranks that would have undermined the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy.
Twelve Conservative MPs, led by former ministers Stephen Hammond and Nicky Morgan, rebelled against the government to vote for a proposal that would have kept the UK in the customs union if no alternative plan for frictionless trade with the EU had been agreed by January 2019.
Mrs May argues that leaving the customs union was necessary to enable trade deals with other countries.
The trade bill survived with the support of rebels in the Labour ranks. Five Labour Brexit-supporting MPs – Kate Hoey, John Mann, Frank Field, Graham Stringer and Kelvin Hopkins – risked a backlash from colleagues by voting alongside the government against the customs “backstop” plan.
Mr Mann said: “We need a Brexit deal that prioritises jobs and industry, with a deal that delivers frictionless trade. The Tory remainers’ amendment would have made the likelihood of crashing out with a no deal more likely, not less likely.”
However, there was further fury when it emerged the Tory party chairman Brandon Lewis voted with the government despite being paired with deputy Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, who was at home on maternity leave.
Mr Lewis claimed it had been a “mistake” but a furious Ms Swinson tweeted: “Don’t try any nonsense about a mistake – this is calculated, deliberate breaking of trust by government whips to win at all costs. There’s a word for it – cheating.”
In reply, Mr Lewis tweeted: “I’m sorry, Jo. I think it was an honest mistake made by the whips in fast-moving circumstances. I know how important the pair is to everyone, especially new parents, and I apologise.”
Just 24 hours earlier, the prime minister infuriated Remainers by accepting amendments to the customs bill from hardline Leavers.
Shadow Scotland Secretary Lesley Laird said the fact that no Scottish Conservative MPs rebelled against the government meant “Ruth Davidson’s pledge that her MPs would stand up for Scotland was nothing short of a lie.”
She said: “At every step they have been nothing short of lobby fodder for Theresa May and Ruth Davidson has done absolutely nothing about it.”
SNP MP Angus MacNeil appeared to put pressure on Nicola Sturgeon, tweeting that the vote “now ensures that Scotland’s SNP Government has no option but to hold #indyref2 in next year or so.”
Mrs May will address Tory backbenchers today and will prepare for talks in Brussels where she faces more difficult negotiations.
Downing Street abandoned its plans to bring forward the summer recess by five days.