Brexit: David Davis Scrambling To Avert Major Defeat

An influential Conservative backbencher claimed Wednesday (December 13) that the government is locked in a "dialogue of the deaf," as Brexit Secretary David Davis moved to try and avert a high-profile defeat over Brexit legislation.

Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, has tabled an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which MPs will vote on tonight.

The amendment would prevent the government from implementing the legislation to formally transfer post-Brexit power back to the British parliament, until MPs had supported the final Brexit deal in a separate vote.

Grieve told Sky News that the withdrawal bill as currently constituted gave the government powers that it "should not and ought not to be using."

Clause 9 of the withdrawal bill would, in theory, allow ministers to push the legislation through regardless of the outcome of the separate vote, promised by Davis, on the Brexit deal itself.

Davis sought to calm rebels' fears on Wednesday morning in a written ministerial statement.

Brexit Protest Westminster
Anti Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain December 11, 2017. Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Davis promised, "The government will not implement any parts of the withdrawal agreement—for example by using clause 9 of the European Union (withdrawal) bill—until after this vote has taken place."

But the pro-EU group Best For Britain said that, without Grieve's amendment, "this statement is not worth the paper it is written on."

And Grieve said on Sky that he still hoped the government would amend the legislation. He warned that every time MPs questioned the process by which Brexit would take place, a "hysteria" arose, with those on the anti-EU side of the debate fearing that Remainers were trying to stop Britain from leaving the EU.

"This is all part of the hysteria that builds up, and it's a real problem; each time we come to a process issue in detail it immediately gets transformed into a battle of wills," said Grieve.

"The government needs to listen to what's been said to them and at the moment unfortunately... it seems to be a bit of a dialogue of the deaf."

The Labour Party is backing Grieve's amendment, with the party's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer saying "the terms of our future are not for the government alone to determine." The Scottish National Party is also set to support the challenge.

That means only a relatively small number of Conservative rebels could potentially turn the vote against the government.

May's backers are reportedly stressing to rebels that May will head to Brussels tomorrow for a European Council summit, and that a defeat would substantially weaken her hand when facing her continental counterparts.