Government avoids EU Withdrawal Bill defeat after last-ditch deal on 'meaningful vote'

On the return of the EU Withdrawal Bill for consideration by MPs on Tuesday, the government won all the day's votes as it overturned a series of House of Lords amendments to the key Brexit legislation.

Anna Soubry, a pro-EU Conservative MP, said she knew of one legislator who would not vote with their conscience because of "threats to their personal safety" and that of staff and family.

Phillip Lee accused the government of trying to limit parliament's role in shaping Britain's departure from the European Union and said the government's Brexit strategy was detrimental to the British people. Philip Lee said a choice between "bad and worse" options was not giving MPs a meaningful vote.

Facing the prospect of losing a vote on a crucial amendment to the government's flagship Brexit legislation - which was created to empower parliament to vote down the final deal without risking a "no-deal" exit from the bloc - ministers intervened with a concession at the 11th hour even as MPs were wrapping up debate on the controversial measure.

MPs voted at 5.30pm today, with 324 votes to 298 - a majority of 26 - to reject the amendment.

The vote on Tuesday is the first of two days of debate that will test May's authority and her plans for leaving the EU.

A spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the European Union said: "On the meaningful vote we have agreed to look for a compromise when this goes back to the Lords".

"And therefore it was important that we had time this afternoon to discuss whether the government had unilaterally amended the Belfast Agreement".

But Solicitor General Robert Buckland publicly implied that Government would be accepting part of Grieve's amendment, and said that a "structured discussion" would take place with rebels.

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Following its defeat, the government's own amendment on the so-called meaningful vote will go forward to the House of Lords for debate next week - but with some changes.

Earlier, Brexit minister David Davis told parliament a government defeat would undermine negotiations with Brussels and warned lawmakers the government would never allow them to "reverse Brexit".

But if the amendments being debated in Parliament this week force a change to the government's negotiating strategy, the wound could yet reopen.

The right-wing press is presenting the upcoming votes as a make-or-break moment, continuing its longstanding tactic of describing the Brexit process as the "will of the people" and any attempts to seek greater democratic oversight of the process as "undemocratic".

"We are asking members of parliament to abide by the referendum result, our manifesto commitment and to back our country", Andrew Bridgen, Conservative lawmaker and Brexit campaigner, told Reuters.

Earlier in the day Mr Freeman had offered support to Phillip Lee who had resigned as a justice minister in order to oppose the government on Brexit.

May's government is divided between Brexit-backing ministers such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who support a clean break with the European Union, and those such as Treasury chief Philip Hammond who want to keep closely aligned to the bloc, Britain's biggest trading partner.

Phillip Lee's resignation came hours before British Prime Minister Theresa May faces crunch votes in parliament and a potential showdown with pro-EU rebels in her ruling party. She now relies on the support of a small Northern Irish party.

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