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May buys time in Brexit vote

Buying time: The result is announced, giving Mrs May a narrow victory of 324 votes to 298

THERESA May last night bought herself time on her flagship Brexit bill, but only after offering major concessions to give MPs a bigger say on the final agreement.

The Commons voted by 324 to 298 to reject a Lords’ amendment that would have given MPs the power to tell the prime minister to go back and renegotiate with the European Union.

Mrs May’s move to get Tory rebels on board came just hours after the resignation of justice minister Phillip Lee.

After the vote, Mr Lee tweeted: ‘Delighted that the government has agreed to give parliament the voice I always wanted it to have in the Brexit process. This justifies my decision to resign and makes it a lot less painful.’

Quit: Tory rebel Phillip Lee resigned as justice minister before the vote PIC: PA

But a spokesman for Brexit secretary David Davis insisted the government had not agreed anything that would allow MPs to tie its hands in the negotiations.

The prime minister had been facing a rebellion from within Tory ranks on a series of votes on amendments made by Remain supporters in the Lords to the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill.

There were rumours around Westminster that other ministers were preparing to resign, with Tory Remainer Heidi Allen telling Radio 4’s World At One that ‘half-a-dozen’ other ministers could follow Mr Lee out the door.

The rebellion was thwarted after ministers pledged to redraft the Bill taking in most of the rebels’ concerns when it returns to the Lords.

During the debate, chief whip Julian Smith could be seen darting in and out of the chamber and between rebel Tory backbenchers. They only backed down after the prime minister met about 15 of them and offered concessions.

Leading Remainer Dominic Grieve said the result had ended the prospect of Britain crashing out of the EU with no deal. ‘Our concern is to make sure we don’t end up with a situation where there is something Parliament doesn’t want and cannot do anything about,’ he said.

The former attorney general had tabled an amendment and now expects ministers to redraft the bill to include two key points from it that would give MPs a say if the government fails to reach a deal in its negotiations with the EU.

If confirmed, the move represents a dramatic climbdown from Mrs May’s original plan to offer MPs a ‘take it or leave it’ vote, to accept the withdrawal agreement or leave the EU without a deal. MPs could vote on the redrafted Bill as early as next week.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘We will wait and see the details of this concession and will hold ministers to account to ensure it lives up to the promises they have made to Parliament.’

A Brexit department spokesman said the government had merely ‘agreed to look for a compromise’. He added: ‘We have not, and will not, agree to the House of Commons binding the government’s hands in the negotiations.’

And Tory Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen said Remainers may be overestimating their victory. ‘If that’s not the case they’ve just played into the EU hands because they’ve completely undermined our negotiating position,’ he said. ‘Our strongest card is no deal.’