May heads for Brexit showdown on parliament role

Theresa May faces a new showdown with Brexit rebels this week.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans face rejection by the House of Lords on Monday, setting the stage for a high-stakes confrontation with rebel lawmakers in her Conservative party later in the week.

Ministers are seeking approval for the final wording of the EU Withdrawal Bill that will formally end Britain’s membership of the European Union next March, but have fallen into a bitter row with a group of lawmakers who want parliament to have a say in the exit process if talks in Brussels fail to reach an acceptable deal.

On Monday, the House of Lords will debate different proposals for a so-called “meaningful” vote – the role that parliament will play if lawmakers reject the exit deal May negotiates with the EU, or if she fails to agree an exit deal at all.

Talks between May and a group of rebels who support a ‘soft Brexit’ on a compromise plan broke down last week at the last minute, leaving two similar but crucially different proposals on the table.

Ministers have so far agreed to give parliament a symbolic vote on the government’s strategy if its initial exit deal is rejected, but not to give parliament the power to force changes to its plan.

Speaking over the weekend, former attorney general and leading rebel Dominic Grieve warned that the government amendment prepared last week was “valueless”. He added that the rebels “could collapse the government” if they voted against a Brexit deal, which is scheduled to be agreed with EU negotiators in the autumn.

For her part, May told the BBC that she had “undertook to consider their concerns” but insisted that Parliament “cannot tie the hands of government in negotiations” with the EU.

May’s Conservatives do not have a majority in the unelected House of Lords, and with the opposition Labour Party deciding to back a rival proposal, the government faces defeat when the debate begins on Monday afternoon.

That would tee up a showdown with MPs on Wednesday. Both houses of parliament must agree the final wording before it can become law, but results in the lower house, where May rules with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party, are more consequential for her leadership.

Failure to keep her party in line would signal trouble for several other key, but contentious, pieces of legislation needed to prepare for Brexit, including trade and customs policy.

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