Defeated May slumps off to Brussels
Embattled UK Prime Minister Theresa May is heading to Brussels for the third time in 10 days hours after her first lower house defeat on Brexit during which her party colleagues rebelled.
One rebel, Stephen Hammond, was sacked as Conservative Party vice chairman in the aftermath of the vote.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the defeat was a “humiliating loss of authority” for May.
May will call on the other 27 EU leaders to move on to talks on post-Brexit trade deals.
The Commons defeat forces the government to amend its EU Withdrawal Bill, which ministers claim could prolong the Brexit process, has further weakened May’s authority.
MPs have been making numerous attempts to change the bill’s wording but this was the first time one has succeeded.
The government was defeated by just four votes, as MPs backed an amendment to the bill by 309 to 305.
Dominic Grieve, the Conservative MP who tabled the amendment, told the BBC: “The right thing is carrying out Brexit in an orderly, sensible way, which has a proper process to it.
“I’ve been studious in not trying to interfere with the government’s negotiating strategy, I’ve hardly asked a question,” said the former attorney general.
Ministers had made several attempts to please their rebellious colleagues and argued that Grieve’s amendment would put unnecessary time pressure on London if talks with the EU continued until the last minute.
The other countries are expected to endorse the European Commission’s judgement that “sufficient progress” had been made on the rights of EU citizens, the Irish border and divorce bill to move Brexit negotiations on to the second phase.
But the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned that this may not mean an immediate start to the trade talks, which London wants.
A leaked draft from the summit suggested trade talks may not start until after the next summit in March, when a further set of guidelines will be agreed.
Barnier told MEPs that the European Council would initially concentrate on the terms of a transition to the post-Brexit relationship, while he would focus on turning last week’s agreement into a legally binding withdrawal deal.
Barnier said the remaining 27 members now needed to agree between themselves on “the framework for the future relationship”.
Meanwhile, the European Council president Donald Tusk has warned of a “furious race against time” to agree a transition deal and trade relations before the March 2019 deadline.
Pro-EU campaigners in Manchester in October. Picture credit: Eurasia Times