Article 50 bill returns to MPs on Monday afternoon, where they will consider two amendments inserted by peers
Peter Walker and Anushka Asthana
Monday 13 March 2017 09.47 GMT First published on Monday 13 March 2017 08.45 GMT
The government faces a last push from rebel backbenchers to guarantee a final vote in parliament on any Brexit deal before the triggering of article 50, with concerns coalescing around what would happen if no agreement was reached with the EU.
The government’s bill authorising it to trigger article 50 returns to the Commons on Monday afternoon, where MPs will consider two amendments inserted by peers. It is likely they will return it to the Lords in the evening.
If the House of Lords backs down and the bill becomes law, Theresa May is expected to trigger the article, formally beginning the two-year process of Britain’s departure from the EU, on Tuesday.
If there is another delay, the process will probably be delayed until the last week in March to avoid clashing with this week’s Dutch election and the 60th anniversary of the treaty of Rome, the precursor to the EU.
One of the Lords’ amendments seeks to guarantee the rights of overseas EU nationals in the UK. Few rebel Conservative MPs are expected to seek to retain it in a bill focused more on the process of departure.
However, Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, said she and some fellow Tory backbenchers would seek reassurances on the other amendment, which tries to guarantee a meaningful vote on a final deal.
“This is not about making sure that Brexit doesn’t happen, or article 50 isn’t triggered,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “MPs and peers have voted overwhelmingly to allow the overall article 50 to go through. But yes, we do think that parliament should have a say, should have input, on the final deal, whatever negotiations conclude.”
Morgan said her main concern was what sort of say MPs would have if May returns from two years of negotiations recommending no deal, which would see the UK default to standard World Trade Organisation arrangements.
May has previously argued that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain”, while on Sunday senior Brexit ministers used media interviews to discuss the contingency planning for what would happen if the UK could not agree a deal.
This did not necessarily need to involve an amendment, Morgan said: “If ministers recognise that right today at the despatch box, I think that would reassure me and many of my colleagues.”
But she argued some guarantees were needed. “What they can say is the parliament will have a say at the end of the negotiations,” she said. “David Davis and everybody else knows that parliament will find a way to have a vote – isn’t it better that the government acknowledges that today, recognises that MPs will have a say at the end of this.
“But if the prime minister wants a united party behind her, then this is a simple reassurance that can be given by ministers at the despatch box that will have the effect of me and my colleagues supporting the government in this.”
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA
Jeremy Corbyn said the Labour party, which sponsored the two amendments in the Lords, would continue to press for the rights of EU nationals and a meaningful say in parliament.
“We want a clear decision to come from parliament at the end of the negotiations, with a full report back from the government,” he told Today. “We also want regular reports back on how the negotiations are going, so that parliament can be involved in it, take a view on it, take a view on the general direction.”
This did not mean Labour was seeking to obstruct article 50 or Brexit, he insisted: “But everyone has a right to be heard on what the future relations with Europe are. We can’t leave the continent – we are geographically part of it.”
The Commons will begin debating the amended bill on Monday afternoon, and could send it back to the Lords in the evening under the “ping pong” process.
If MPs overturn both amendments, peers will debate for a couple of hours, with the tone taken by Davis viewed as important: if he is seen as having been respectful of their role, they are more likely to accept the supremacy of the Commons.
Sources say there is a high chance the bill will be ready for royal assent by Monday night, allowing article 50 to be triggered on Tuesday.
The focus on a possible lack of replacement deal comes as a cross-party campaign warned that if Britain leaves the EU in this way, its commercial links with the bloc will overnight become less favourable than any other major industrialised state.