15 Conservative MPs who plan to vote against the government on an
amendment to the withdrawal bill have been branded “mutineers” by The
Daily Telegraph in a front page splash that has caused outrage in
Senior Conservatives including former chancellor Ken Clarke and
former attorney general Dominic Grieve are among the backbench Tories
pictured on the Telegraph’s front page because they oppose a government
Veteran MP Clarke labelled the amendment to make the day the UK
leaves the European Union binding, making sure that Brexit happens at
11pm on 29 March 2019 “utterly foolish” and “silly.”
Pro-remain Conservative MP Anna Soubry, who was also featured on the
Telegraph’s front page, told MPs the coverage by the newspaper was a
“blatant piece of bullying” and she regarded it as a “badge of honour.”
Brexit minister Steve Baker, one of the highest profile Eurosceptic
MPs, condemned the Telegraph’s front page. He tweeted: “I regret any
media attempts to divide our party.”
The withdrawal bill is at committee stage in the House of Commons,
where MPs debate amendments to it and attempt to improve the bill.
It passed at second reading,
meaning MPs agree with it in principle, but will now be reshaped to
make sure it works and try and make it pass in the House of Lords.
MPs will discuss the bill at committee stage for two days every week for the next month, scrutinising it line by line.
The government comfortably won the first five votes on amendments to
the bill with majorities around 20, despite all the main opposition
parties voting against them.
Tory rebels criticise government amendment
Tory rebels have indicated they will vote against the government’s
plan to enshrine the UK’s exit date in law, which could cause the
amendment to be defeated.
Clarke said: “It is quite unnecessary to actually close down our
options as severely as we are with this amendment when we don’t know yet
[what will happen in the Brexit talks], when it is perfectly possible
that there is a mutually beneficial, European and British, need to keep
the negotiations going for a time longer to get them settled.”
Grieve said that no amount of “arm twisting” would make him vote for
the amendment, which will not be voted on until next month towards the
end of the bill’s committee stage.
He said: “I have to say I find this amendment by the government so
very strange, because it seems to me to fetter the government, to add
nothing to the strength of the government’s negotiating position, and in
fact potentially to create a very great problem that could be brought
back to visit on us at a later stage.”
Watch Ken Clarke: “I am the rebel”
Brexiteer Geoffrey Cox seemed to echo this position, telling MPs:
“Let us suppose our own negotiators wish an extension, it is curtailing
the flexibility and room for manoeuvre of our own negotiators.”
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said setting a date
in law was a “desperate gimmick” that was “about party management, not
the national interest”.
He said: “The government’s amendments to their own Bill would stand
in the way of an orderly transition and increase the chance of Britain
crashing out of Europe without an agreement.”
Former Cabinet Office minister Sir Oliver Letwin told MPs that he
would vote with the government on Tuesday night, but the part of the
withdrawal bill that deals with retained EU law is a “frightful mess.”
He said: “Of course I shall be voting with the government tonight,
but I very much hope after this debate – as did not happen after second
reading – that the government will go away and think about clause six.
“If it doesn’t what will happen is it will get massacred in the House of Lords – quite rightly.”