United Kingdom justice minister resigns over Brexit ahead of key votes

Former justice minister Phillip Lee told the House of Commons he was ‘devastated’ over his resignation

The meaningful vote is probably the most risky of the Lords amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill - because it tees up an unpredictable vote on the final terms of Brexit, towards the end of this year, and opens up the possibility that MPs could demand that ministers change policy, in the event the terms were rejected by the House, or no deal was reached in the talks with the EU.... they could even demand (drumroll) a second referendum...

May's officials begin work on Wednesday, drafting a new clause in her key piece of Brexit legislation after she narrowly avoided a defeat in Parliament by offering last-minute concessions to pro-EU lawmakers.

But Britain - and its government - remain divided over Brexit, and European Union leaders are frustrated with what they see as a lack of firm proposals from the U.K about future relations.

Compared to the government's proposal, this is a shorter time to respond, and gives parliament a vote to approve the response. The increasingly febrile atmosphere comes as pressure builds for a deal by October ahead of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union in March next year.

May says the changes would weaken the government's negotiating position, and the government will try to alter or reverse them in the House of Commons on Tuesday and Wednesday.

To make matters worse, the justice minister, Philip Lee, resigned just hours before the start of the debate in protest at his own government's position on Brexit.

The Labour leader teased Mrs May over whether she would follow suggestions from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to allow US President Donald Trump to take over the Brexit talks, before accusing her of delaying pledges linked to Brexit.

Under a suggested compromise offered by former Tory cabinet minister Dominic Grieve, who has warned a no-deal scenario could lead to a "national crisis", ministers would have seven days to set out a fresh approach if Parliament rejected a deal.

In fact, her party is far from united.

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Theresa May ultimately persuaded all but two of her MPs to back her in the decisive vote in Westminster on Tuesday - but she increasingly appears little more than a hostage to the warring factions in a bitterly divided Conservative party.

She has already agreed to give MPs a vote on the final Brexit deal, but says it will be a yes or no decision - meaning that rejecting it could see Britain crash out of the EU.

The amendment, which would push the government towards adopting a Norway-style deal with Brussels, was voted down by 327 votes to 126, a majority of 201.

Also on Tuesday, the government successfully overturned an attempt to remove the date of Brexit from the face of the bill.

May objected to the amendment - inserted by the House of Lords - because she said it would tie her hands in the negotiation.

"If the PM goes back on that there will be no agreed amendment that I can support #sortitplease", leading pro-European lawmaker Anna Soubry tweeted.

May said the government would amend the bill to address legislators' concerns, but warned that "I can not countenance Parliament being able to overturn the will of the British people".

"The vote rejecting the Lords' amendment does not dispose of the issue".

The EU is expecting her to have made progress by a summit in June and both sides want to reach a deal by October.

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