Theresa May’s beleaguered government faces a fresh showdown in Parliament over its Brexit plans after pro-EU MPs complained of betrayal over a key part of the legislation.
Defeat on a key vote next week could bring down the prime minister, whose authority is on a knife-edge in a hung parliament amid open conflict within the ruling Conservative Party.
The row is a major distraction in the run-up to a crucial EU summit later this month, with Brussels seeking clarity from London over its objectives. The government is divided over the nature of future UK-EU ties.
The latest internal dispute concerns the role of the UK Parliament in the event that the government’s negotiations with Brussels produce no agreement, shortly before the country is due to leave the EU in March next year.
Tory rebels want Parliament to be able to direct the government’s course at such a potentially “apocalyptic moment”. Pro-Brexit MPs argue that this would tie ministers’ hands at a crucial stage, and accuse the pro-EU side of manipulating the process to secure the softest of Brexits.
Earlier this week the rebels believed they had reached agreement with Theresa May on a compromise. They believe the government has caved in to the Brexit hardliners. Now another round of legislative “ping pong” looms between the two houses of Parliament.
The EU Withdrawal Bill is designed to ensure an orderly Brexit and avoid legal chaos as it ends the supremacy of European law in the UK.
Further splits in the opposition Labour party over Brexit add to the confusion and uncertainty in Parliament, where the Conservative government is propped up by Northern Ireland unionists. Earlier this week Scottish nationalist MPs vented their anger by walking out.
Separate from the parliamentary power struggle, the government faces more difficulties over its trade and customs bills which are due before Parliament before the summer recess.