UK justice minister resigns ahead of crucial House of Commons Brexit vote

The British Prime Minister has called for unity ahead of the votes

UK justice minister resigns ahead of crucial House of Commons Brexit vote

File photo dated 16-04-18 of British Prime Minister Theresa May. Image: Simon Dawson/PA Wire/PA Images

The British Prime Minister is facing a number of crucial Brexit votes in the House of Commons later today.

Theresa May has called for unity ahead of the debates, warning that defeat would "undermine her negotiating position" in Brussels.

Mrs May holds only a slim majority in the House of Commons and has urged rebels within her party not to support the proposed amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill.

Mrs May’s Government has agreed to accept one of the 15 amendments sent down by the House of Lords and has offered compromises on three others.

Downing Street is confident the Government can avoid defeat on the others, although talks are ongoing in terms of allowing MPs a “meaningful vote” on the final deal.

The ‘meaningful vote’ amendment would give British MPs the power to reject any proposed deal and potentially force Mrs May to return to Brussels to negotiate a better outcome.

Ministerial resignation

The ongoing dispute among Tory MPs saw Justice Minister Philip Lee resign his position this morning.

In a series of tweets the pro-Remain MP said Mr Lee said he had done so in order to speak out against the government’s Brexit policy. 

He said resigning was a “last resort” adding that “such a serious principle is being breached that I would find it hard to live with myself afterwards if I let it pass.”

"The main reason for my taking this decision now is the Brexit process and the Government’s wish to limit Parliament’s role in contributing to the final outcome in a vote that takes place today," he said.

"If, in the future, I am to look my children in the eye and honestly say that I did my best for them I cannot, in all good conscience, support how our country’s exit from the EU looks set to be delivered."

He said the “practicalities, logistics and implications of leaving the EU are far more complex than was ever envisaged and certainly more complex than the people were told in 2016.”

“The UK is not going to be ready in time, neither is the EU, and both would suffer from a rushed or fudged agreement.”

He noted that the outcome that appears to be emerging form talks is that Britain will neither fully leave the EU nor fully remain within it.

“This is not an outcome for which anyone knowingly voted,” he said.

“In my view, this raises the important principle of legitimacy: I do not believe it would be right for the Government to pursue such a course without a plan to seek a confirmatory mandate for the outcome.

“And I believe that Parliament should have the power to ask the Government to adjust its course in the best interests of the people whom its Members represent.”

Customs union

Another of the amendments would demand that ministers remain open to the idea of negotiating a customs union with the EU.

Pro-EU MPs want a customs union in order to avoid friction in trade, but Brexiteers fear it would affect the UK's ability to sign independent trade deals with non-EU countries.

However, a compromise amendment tabled leading Brexiteers Sir Bill Cash and Jacob Rees-Mogg, as well as leading Remainers Nicky Morgan and Stephen Hammond, appears to have staved off a potential defeat for Mrs May.

he compromise calls the British government to make a statement on its efforts to negotiate a "customs arrangement" with the EU. 

Labour, which backs a post-Brexit customs union with the EU, immediately branded the "bogus" compromise amendment "yet another fudge; designed to patch over the deep divisions at the heart of the Conservative Party." 

Negotiation

Mrs May told a meeting of backbench MPs yesterday that it was important to “think about the message” the British Parliament is sending to the EU, as she insisted she is “trying to negotiate the best deal for Britain.”

She said she is confident of a deal that will allow the UK to strike its own trade deals while keeping its border with the EU as frictionless as possible.

She said that, if the amendments sent down by the House of Lords are allowed to stand, Britain’s negotiating position will be undermined.

Transition

Noting that the purpose of the EU Withdrawal Bill was to put EU legislation onto British statute books in order to ensure a “smooth and orderly transition” after Brexit, she warned that the message the vote sends to the British people is important.

"We must be clear that we are united as a party in our determination to deliver on the decision made by the British people,” she said.

"They want us to deliver on Brexit and build a brighter future for Britain as we take back control of our money, our laws and our borders."