Tory rebels threaten to ‘collapse’ government unless consulted on Brexit deal

EU Withdrawal Bill returns on Monday to the House of Lords

Conservative backbench rebels could bring down Theresa May's government over the role of parliament in approving the final Brexit deal or if there is no deal, one of their leaders has warned.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve said the rebels would not allow the British prime minister to limit MPs' role to voting on a non-binding, unamendable motion.

“We could collapse the government, and I assure you that I wake up at 2am in a cold sweat thinking about the problems that we have put on our shoulders. The difficulty is that the Brexit process in inherently risky, really risky. Risky to our economic wellbeing, risky to our international relationships and ultimately to our national security,” he told the BBC.

The EU Withdrawal Bill returns on Monday to the House of Lords, which will consider rival amendments tabled by the government and by Mr Grieve. Mr Grieve's amendment would require the government to come to parliament for approval seven days after an agreement with the EU is concluded.


If there was no agreement by November 30th, the government would have to move a motion in the Commons, setting out how it intends to proceed and seeking approval for it. If there was no Brexit deal by February 15th 2019, parliament could direct the government on how it should proceed with the negotiations.

The government’s version says that if no deal is agreed by January 21st, 2019, a minister would have to come to the Commons to make a statement. MPs would then vote on “a motion in neutral terms” which could not be amended, so MPs would be unable to tell the government what to do next.

“I can’t save the government from getting into a situation where parliament might disagree with it,” Mr Grieve said.

“The alternative is that we have all got to sign up to a slavery clause now saying whatever the government does, when it comes to January, however potentially catastrophic it might be for my constituents, and my country, I’m signing in blood now that I will follow over the edge of the cliff. And that, I can tell you, I am not prepared to do.”

Mr Grieve's allies say they had agreed a compromise amendment with the government last week but the wording was changed following pressure from Brexit secretary David Davis. If the Lords back Mr Grieve's amendment, it will return to the Commons for another vote on Wednesday.

Ms May announced on Sunday that the National Health Service (NHS) will receive an extra 3.4 per cent in annual funding for the next five years, which would amount to more than the £350 million a week promised by the Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum. The prime minister said the extra money would be partly funded by what she called the "Brexit dividend" – money Britain will no longer have to pay into the EU budget after it leaves.

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, was among the economists who said on Sunday that there will be no Brexit dividend because the fall in tax receipts as a result of lower economic growth will be greater than money saved by not contributing to the EU budget.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times