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May defeated as lawmakers demand power to reject final Brexit terms

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May

Britain’s upper house of parliament voted on Tuesday to give lawmakers more power to reject the final terms of the country’s exit from the European Union, ignoring pleas from Prime Minister Theresa May’s government not to hamstring their negotiations.

The vote, which passed by 366 to 268, attaches an extra condition to the “European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill” — legislation which will give May the power to trigger divorce talks. She plans to use that power later this month.

The amended bill now demands that Britain’s parliament has to approve any exit deal before it is debated by the European Parliament, or, if talks fail, that lawmakers must vote to approve a decision to walk away without a deal.

Brexit minister David Davis said in a statement that the British government would seek to overturn the changes.

“It is clear that some in the Lords would seek to frustrate that process, and it is the Government’s intention to ensure that does not happen. We will now aim to overturn these amendments in the House of Commons,” Davis said.

The government has already promised parliament a vote on the final deal, but believes restricting May’s ability to leave the negotiating table could encourage the EU to offer a bad deal in the hope that lawmakers would then reject it and potentially halt Brexit.

“This amendment simply makes the negotiations much harder from day one for the prime minister as it increases the incentive for the European Union to offer nothing but a bad deal,” said George Bridges, the government’s Brexit minister for the Lords, in his final plea before the vote.

The government has vowed to fight any changes to the legislation before they become law when the bill is presented for approval to the lower chamber, where May has a small majority, next week.

The defeat, however, could present a major headache for May if members of her own party in the lower chamber follow through on their threats to rebel against the government by supporting the amendment.

A split within May’s Conservative party would undermine her authority at a time when she is facing down demands for a second independence referendum from Scottish nationalists, managing fears that Brexit could destabilise Northern Ireland, and trying to persuade major EU powers they must cut her a good exit deal.

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