Prime Minister Theresa May agreed Tuesday to give British lawmakers a vote on the Brexit deal before it is finalised, seeking to fend off a rebellion over a bill to start negotiations to leave the EU.
May had previously promised a vote in parliament before the deal comes into force, but conceded this would now take place before it was concluded — a key demand from many pro-European lawmakers.
However, her government warned that in the event of parliament rejecting the withdrawal terms and any deal on a new trading relationship with the European Union, Britain would still leave the bloc.
“This will be a meaningful vote. It will be a choice between leaving the European Union with a negotiated deal or not,” Brexit minister David Jones told the House of Commons. He added: “To send the government back to the negotiating table would be the surest way of undermining our negotiating position and delivering a worse deal.”
Some MPs had argued that parliament should be able to vote against the agreement and force the government to seek to negotiate a better one.
May’s concession came as MPs prepared to debate amendments to a bill empowering the prime minister to start formal Brexit negotiations, a process she has promised to begin by the end of March.
The prime minister was facing a potential rebellion among her Conservative lawmakers over an opposition amendment demanding a vote on the final exit package.
But several pro-European Tories were quick to welcome the government’s change of stance, and even opposition Labour spokesman Keir Starmer called it a “huge and very important concession”.
The bill now looks likely to clear the Commons without too much trouble at the end of its debate stage on Wednesday, when it will head to the House of Lords to be approved by peers.
Jones said the “final draft agreement” on Brexit would be put to the Commons and House of Lords before it was put to the European Parliament for ratification.
Many MPs are sceptical that both the exit terms and a new trade deal can be agreed within the two-year negotiating timetable, which can only be extended if all other 27 EU leaders agree.
Jones said he was confident of getting agreement on both areas, but said that if there was no deal, Britain would fall back on World Trade Organization rules to determine its trade with the EU.