The Department for Exiting the European Union has insisted that the government will not allow the House of Commons to bind ministers in Brexit negotiations amid confusion over concessions offered by prime minster Theresa May to Conservative rebels.
May yesterday avoided a Commons defeat on the government’s key Brexit legislation after holding meetings with more than a dozen Tory backbenchers who were prepared to vote against the government by backing a House of Lords amendment on a so-called 'meaningful vote' on the exit terms. This could have given Parliament an increased role in the Brexit process if MPs reject the withdrawal agreement.
According to the rebels, May told them that ministers were prepared to accept two key demands contained in a compromise amendment tabled by former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve, and would bring them forward by the time the bill returns to the House of Lords next week.
The demands included a commitment that the House of Commons would have a veto over the course of action the government takes if it has not reached a Brexit deal with Brussels by the end of November.
May also pledged, the rebels said, to consider the third section of the amendment, which would prevent a no deal Brexit by putting Parliament in charge if no agreement is reached with the EU by 15 February next year.
Following their discussions with the prime minister, the rebels agreed not to oppose the government.
But in apparent defiance of the deal the rebels believed they had struck with May, a spokesperson for the DExEU said: "On the meaningful vote we have agreed to look for a compromise when this goes back to the Lords.
"The Brexit secretary [David Davis] has set out three tests that any new amendment has to meet – not undermining the negotiations, not changing the constitutional role of Parliament and government in negotiating international treaties, and respecting the referendum result.
"We have not, and will not, agree to the House of Commons binding the government's hands in the negotiations."
One onservative rebel told Civil Service World’s sister site PoliticsHome: "The position of the prime minister was very straightforward. It was indicated to us that the first two parts of the Grieve amendment presented very few problems and could be incorporated into a government amendment. The third part was more difficult, but from the conversation there was a way forward.
"DExEU can say whatever they want to say, I'm not going to get involved in their internal issues. The blunt reality is that the government's difficult position means they say one thing to one group and one thing to another.
"The whole purpose of this was to proceed by agreement. If the outcome of our talks with the prime minister doesn't get delivered, the Grieve amendment will come back, and it's pretty clear where the numbers are."