Nearly 90 MPs voted to block Brexit tonight in the first ever Commons motion calling for the EU divorce process to start by the spring.
But despite the Remain rebels the Government won an overwhelming majority in favour of triggering Article 50 – the formal mechanism for leaving the EU – by the end of March next year.
The vote came after a heated debate on Brexit in the Commons chamber that lasted more than six hours.
Remain rebels vowed to vote against starting the Brexit process – despite a record 17.4million voters delivering a key verdict on the EU in June.
Tory grandee Ken Clarke led the resistance against the referendum result in a high profile Commons debate.
Nearly 90 MPs voted to block Brexit tonight in the first ever Commons motion calling for the EU divorce process to start by the spring
Speaker John Bercow announced the result of the vote at 7.15pm tonight, with 461 voting in favour of the Government’s plan to trigger Article 50 by the end of March and 89 voting against – a majority of 372
Ken Clarke, pictured during today’s debate, mocked the Prime Minister: ‘We will be told the ”plan” is for a ”red, white and blue Brexit”… we need a white paper.’
The former Chancellor mocked Theresa May’s ‘red, white and blue Brexit’ slogan and said ministers had no idea what they were doing.
A string of Labour MPs stood up to say they would vote against the majority tonight, insisting they would not give the Government a ‘blank cheque’ on Brexit.
MPs were warned they would be attempting to ‘thwart’ the will of the people if they refused to endorse Mrs May’s plans tonight.
The run-up to the debate on a Labour opposition motion was dominated by a major U-turn from Mrs May.
Mr Clarke, pictured left in the Commons today, gave the first signal of serious dissent, accusing ministers of having no idea how to go about delivering Brexit. Nicky Morgan, right, urged the Prime Minister to ‘inspire’ with a vision of Brexit would look like
The Prime Minister will now provide a ‘plan’ to MPs on her Brexit strategy – but in return has demanded the Commons endorse her planned timetable of invoking Article 50 of the EU treaties to start Brexit before the end of March.
Votes will be held at 7pm and the amended motion – including both the plan and the timetable – are expected to carry with a large majority.
Mrs May will miss the vote – which is not legally binding but has political weight – as she is in the Middle East on Government business.
NOW TORY MP GRANT SHAPPS CHANGES HIS MIND ABOUT BREXIT
Tory MP Grant Shapps has become the latest Remain campaigner to change his mind about Brexit.
The former Conservative party chairman said he is now ‘backing Brexit all the way, as hard as you like’ and is ‘bullish about the UK’s future’.
He follows Niall Ferguson, one of Britain’s most influential historians, in going public about how he was wrong about Brexit.
Mr Ferguson was one of the most vociferous supporters of Britain staying in the EU before the referendum but yesterday admitted he was wrong and admitted he – and the rest of the elite – had failed to listen to voters concerned about immigration.
Today Mr Shapps explained that he had decided to vote for Remain in the referendum because ‘divorce can be one of the most stressful things in life’ and said he backed staying in the EU to avoid the uncertainty it would cause business.
Writing in a blog post for the Brexit Central website, he said that since June’s Brexit vote his ‘natural caution has given way to a feeling of optimism’.
‘I’ve come up with a new hobby of spotting the Brexit dividends where some commentators can only see doom and gloom,’ he writes.
Before the main debate began, Commons leader David Lidington – standing in for Theresa May at PMQs – warned rebels opposing the motion tonight would ‘thwart the outcome of the referendum in most undemocratic fashion’.
He told MPs the plan would include some detail on the ‘negotiating strategy and objectives’ of the Government.
Grandee Mr Clarke gave the first signal of serious dissent, slamming a lack of ‘proper Cabinet government’ and warning: ‘Ministers have no idea what the strategy is anyway and disagree with each other.’
He mocked the Prime Minister telling MPs: ‘We will be told the ”plan” is for a ”red, white and blue Brexit”… we need a white paper.’
Mr Clarke slammed the ‘pathetic level of debate on both sides of the referendum’.
He said: ‘The public did vote by a majority to leave the European Union. They did not vote for anything on the subject of replacements for the European Union.’
Arch-remainer Nicky Morgan, the former Tory education secretary, said she would vote for the amendment tonight but warned the Government it had to be open in its negotiations.
She said: ‘We need ministers from the Prime Minister downwards to inspire as well as engage on this issue and to be clear what 2019 and onwards will look like for this country.’
Ex Labour cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw confirmed he would vote no tonight for fear of giving ministers a ‘blank cheque’ for delivering Brexit to an ‘artificial’ timetable.
Former Tory attorney general Dominic Grieve (left) accused Brexit hardliners of pursuing a ‘fantasy’ Brexit and ignoring the need to tackle the real issues while ex Labour cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw (right) said he would not vote for the amended motion
Former Labour leader Ed Miliband slammed the Government for wrapping support for Brexit into ‘patriotism’
Former Tory Attorney General accused Brexit hardliners of pursuing a ‘fantasy as Europe as a pariah’ and ignored the realities of what needs to happen next.
IDS: UK IS AT THE FRONT OF THE QUEUE ON US TRADE
Iain Duncan Smith has claimed five pieces of legislation are going through in the US to pave the way for a UK trade deal.
The former Conservative leader said the legislation was going through both the US Senate and House of Representatives, as he said they recognised Britain’s role as the ‘the great free trading nation of the world’.
Speaking in a debate on Brexit in the Commons, Mr Duncan Smith said: ‘I discovered the other day, in the House of Representatives there are now no less than five elements of legislation – three bills, I think, and two amendments to bills – going through both houses, the Senate as well, actually now paving the way for a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom.
‘So much for the existing president’s view that we’ll be at the back of the queue. It appears that the legislators in Congress see us wholly at the front of that queue.
He slammed the ‘vitriolic abuse, polemic without substance and ignorance of the ABCs of the constitution’.
Labour’s Angela Smith, a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, said she would not vote for the Government’s amendment given the lack of certainty over farming policy after Brexit.
‘I also believe that we need a proper timetable and sufficient time for Parliament to scrutinise these proposals, and to amend them if necessary,’ she said.
‘I will vote against the amendment on the table today, therefore, because there are no guarantees before us today, nothing that I have heard today gives me any sense or any confidence that the Government will not try to wriggle out of the commitment to put a plan before this House.’
SNP MP Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) warned the Government would be leading a ‘cowardly Brexit’ if it failed to give answers.
He said: ‘No answers is not a black Brexit or a white Brexit. It’s not a red, white and blue Brexit.
‘No answers is a yellow Brexit. It’s a cowardly Brexit.’
Standing in at PMQs, David Davis (pictured today) said the entire Commons should get behind the Prime Minister tonight after Mrs May tabled an amendment to a Labour motion
Mr Davis said all MPs should back a Government amendment that promises a plan for quitting the EU in return for supporting starting talks before the end of March
Mr MacNeil said such an approach would show the Government has ‘absolutely no idea’ what it is trying to do.
Opening the debate for the Government, Mr Davis said: ‘Our amendment lays out an important challenge to opposition MPs who say they respect the result of the referendum but whose actions suggest they are looking for every opportunity to thwart and delay it.
‘We will see today if they are willing to back the Government in getting on with implementing the decision made by the people of the United Kingdom.’
In his speech, Mr Davis said it was ‘inevitable’ MPs would get a vote on the final Brexit deal – but said a rejection of it would not reverse Brexit.
But he warned ‘the most destructive thing’ to hopes of a good deal would be to promise a second national referendum on the deal.
As the Commons debate began, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer set out his demands for what Mrs May must provide in her plan for quitting the EU
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer began today’s debate with a vow to table amendments setting out ‘minimum requirements’ if the Government plan failed to live up to expectations and ‘end the circus of uncertainty’.
Sir Keir said there must be enough detail to build a ‘national consensus’ because the referendum was not a vote to erase the rights of the 48 per cent who backed Remain.
He said: ‘They have a right and an interest in these negotiations.’
And he warned: ‘There is no mandate for hard Brexit. There is no consensus for hard Brexit.’
Sir Keir warned the Government it must publish its outline for Brexit well ahead of any vote, to allow any amendments to be considered from both sides of the House.
But he was forced to insist Labour did not intend to delay the process beyond the end of March, amid pressure from a number of Tory MPs.
Commons leader David Lidington – standing in for Theresa May at PMQs – warned rebels opposing the motion tonight would ‘thwart the outcome of the referendum’
MPs will vote at 7pm following the conclusion of today’s debate
Former Labour leader Ed Miliband slammed the Government for wrapping support for Brexit into ‘patriotism’.
BREXIT HAS CUT SUPPORT FOR SCOTS INDEPENDENCE, GOVE CLAIMS
Support for Scottish independence and the SNP’s ‘secessionist sermonising’ has fallen since voters backed Brexit, Michael Gove has claimed.
The Conservative former Cabinet minister told the Commons the union has been strengthened by the Leave vote, with evidence showing it is now ‘more popular’.
Mr Gove made the remarks as MPs debated the Government’s plan for Brexit, with ministers under pressure to reveal more detail about their strategy.
A majority of Scots backed Remain in June’s referendum, with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying she is looking at ways to keep the country in the European single market.
But Mr Gove claimed Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is now the most popular politician north of the border as she ‘wants to embrace’ the referendum result.
After detailing how concerns about the economy had not come to fruition following the Brexit vote, Mr Gove added: ‘It was also a legitimate concern of some of those who voted Remain that by voting to leave the European Union we’d do damage to the United Kingdom.
‘The truth is, of course, since we voted to leave the European Union support for a second independence referendum has fallen, support for Scottish independence has fallen, support for the Scottish National Party and its secessionist sermonising has fallen, and the single most popular politician is Ruth Davidson – the only leader of any party that wants to embrace the result.’
Pro-Brexit Mr Gove also said: ‘Two of the legitimate concerns expressed beforehand – our economy would be damaged and our union would be damaged – the evidence is actually our economy is stronger and the union is more popular.’
He said those who backed Remain had done so for patriotic reasons, insisting: ‘We are not seeking proper scrutiny because of a lack of patriotism.
‘We believe in the unity of this country.
‘We believe this country has got to be brought together.’
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said he would rather stay in the European Union than leave and remain in the customs union.
He said: ‘Why would the United Kingdom want to stay in a customs union, when one of the key elements that is important on making that important decision to leave the European Union is we get back the opportunity to make our own trade arrangements.
‘I’d rather we stayed in than stay in the customs union, because it seems completely pointless to me to actually embroil ourselves on the customs union, go through all this rigmarole of arguments and debates and rows, only to find at the end of the day there is no jewel in the crown at the end.’
Mr Duncan Smith also accused Labour members of not really wanting to leave the EU, but found themselves representing constituencies that voted to leave in June’s referendum.
Oliver Letwin warned against having more Commons votes than necessary for fear they could trigger legal challenges.
Last night, the Prime Minister conceded she would have to show some kind of plan before triggering Article 50 to start official Brexit talks to head off a possible Tory rebellion.
The unexpected development came against the backdrop of the continuing Supreme Court case on whether Mrs May needs to pass a law to trigger Article 50, the clause of the EU treaties containing the trading bloc’s divorce procedure.
Mrs May’s concession is despite previous statements she would not provide a ‘running commentary’ on her Brexit tactics in order to avoid ‘showing her hand’ to EU negotiators.
The result of tonight’s vote has no legal significance but is important politically as it commits the Government to giving more detail about their plans for Brexit.
It also exposes the power of Remain-supporting MPs to force concessions from No 10.
Theresa May, pictured today addressing the Gulf Cooperation Council, has confronted rebel Tory MPs head-on by announcing a surprise vote on her timetable for triggering Article 50 today
The Prime Minister will miss tonight’s vote as she is not due back from the Middle East in time – but her amendment is expected to carry with cross party support
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir said Labour will accept the Government’s amendment, meaning the revised motion will be easily passed by MPs at 7pm.
He hailed the ‘hugely significant climb down from the Government’ as a victory for Labour.
And writing in The Times, he said: ‘We will also push for a plan to be published by January 2017 so that the House of Commons, the devolved administrations, the Brexit select committee and the British people have a chance to scrutinise it.’
Mrs May herself will miss tonight’s vote as she will not be back from her visit to the Middle East.
The Liberal Democrats have vowed to oppose it and senior Labour MP Ben Bradshaw revealed unease within the opposition on endorsing Article 50 before a plan is published.
In return for a vote on Article 50, Mrs May has had to concede to publishing a plan for Brexit
The wording of the amendment, which calls on the Government to invoke Article 50 and start the Brexit process before the end of March, is significant as this statement could potentially aid the Government’s case at the Supreme Court.
Government lawyers are trying to overturn a High Court ruling that said Mrs May does not have the power to trigger official Brexit talks without Parliament’s consent.
While the new amendment will not be law, if passed it could be seen as an expression of the ‘will’ of Parliament.
Downing Street said this was not the intention of the amendment.
If the Supreme Court does demand legislation to trigger Article 50, an agreed Commons motion would be politically useful with it comes to a vote.
Labour’s motion says ‘there should be a full and transparent debate on the Government’s plan for leaving the EU.
It also calls on the Prime Minister to ensure this House is able properly to scrutinise that plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked’.