Parliament once again took back control of Brexit on Tuesday night as senior Tories rebelled against the government in a cross-party bid to block a “disastrous” no-deal.
Ex-ministers and Theresa May-loyalists were among those who voted to curb the government’s fiscal powers should Britain look set to crash out of the EU on March 29.
The amendment to the Finance Bill, tabled by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, does not block no-deal in itself but means Chancellor Philip Hammond is banned from making Brexit-related tax changes without MPs’ say-so.
The government was defeated on the amendment by 303 to 296 with the help of 20 Tory rebels.
Former Tory education secretaries Nicky Morgan and Justine Greening, ex-ministers Sir Oliver Letwin, Nick Boles, Dominic Grieve, Sir Nicholas Soames, Guto Bebb, Phillip Lee, Ed Vaizey and Jonathan Djanogly, as well as May’s former policy adviser George Freeman, were among them.
It is the latest example of Westminster wresting control of Brexit as the Article 50 deadline looms and underlines the strength of opposition to no-deal.
One of the most striking speeches came from Tory MP Sir Oliver Letwin, who supports May’s deal.
He stressed he did not want to rebel but “will continue to do so right up to the end of March” in the hope of ending the prospect of a “disastrous” no-deal.
He said: “I want to make it abundantly clear to my honourable friends who are voting against the Prime Minister’s deal, which I shall be supporting, that the majority in this house will sustain itself, and we will not allow a no-deal exit to occur on the 29th of March.”
Adding that voting against the government was “very much against my will”, Letwin said: “I will continue to do so right up to the end of March, in the hope that we can put pay to this disastrous proposal.”
Cooper told the Commons MPs had a responsibility to act.
She said: “I have laid this amendment because I’m really worried that delays, drift or brinkmanship mean that there is now a serious risk we will end up crashing out of the EU in just 80 days time.
“I’m worried that we could come to the crunch and parliament wouldn’t have the powers to stop it happening, and I think we have a responsibility not to just stand by.”
The full list of Tory no-deal Brexit rebels
Sir Michael Fallon
Sir Oliver Letwin
Sir Nicholas Soames
Ex-Treasury minister Morgan, meanwhile, said those voting for the amendment had conflicting views on Brexit but were united in the belief that the government should “rule out the most damaging option that could happen on March 29”.
She added no-deal was “terrible” and “deeply damaging” and posed a greater risk to the economy than the 2008 financial crisis.
She said it would be “gross dereliction of responsibility by members of this house to inflict no-deal on our constituencies”, and added: “Britain is renowned, as a wise general said to me a few weeks ago, for our confidence and our competence.
“At the moment, we are demonstrating neither. No-deal will completely destroy any reputation we have for confidence and competence.”
Speaking after the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “This vote is an important step to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
“It shows that there is no majority in parliament, the cabinet or the country for crashing out of the EU without an agreement. That is why we are taking every opportunity possible in parliament to prevent no deal.
“Theresa May must now rule out no-deal once and for all.”
MPs are set to vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal on January 15.