Three defeats as May’s authority takes a battering in the Commons

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Theresa May’s Government was found in contempt of Parliament as it suffered three Commons defeats in quick succession.

With a crucial vote on the Brexit deal looming on December 11, what does it all mean for the Prime Minister’s authority?

– How was the Government found to be in contempt?

Ministers failed to comply with an earlier resolution calling for the publication of Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s legal advice on the Withdrawal Agreement.

The Government resisted the cross-party contempt motion but was defeated by 311 votes to 293, majority 18.

Tory MPs Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone backed the contempt motion, along with nine MPs from the DUP – who are supposed to be Mrs May’s parliamentary allies.

Minutes earlier, the Government’s attempt to have the contempt motion kicked into the long grass by referring it to the Committee of Privileges had been defeated by 311 votes to 307, majority four.

– What was the next Commons defeat?

Just over an hour after the first defeat, the Government slipped to its third reverse – this time over Parliament’s role in the Brexit process.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve’s amendment will give MPs more of a say if Mrs May loses the crunch vote on her Brexit deal.

It was approved by 321 votes to 299, majority 22 – with 25 Tories rebelling to support it and another voting in both lobbies to record an abstention. Among those voting against the Government were former Cabinet ministers Sir Michael Fallon and Damian Green.

Mr Grieve said: “Parliament has tonight asserted its sovereignty to ensure that amendments – such as for a People’s Vote – can be made to any motion if or when the Government’s proposed deal for leaving the EU has been defeated.”

– What does this mean for Mrs May’s hopes of getting a deal through on December 11?

In one sense, the fact of defeats now does not impact what happens when the deal is voted on next week.

But Mrs May’s authority has taken a pounding, the DUP MPs she relies on for a majority have deserted her and Tories from both wings of the party – Brexiteers such as Mr Bone and Mr Hollobone and Remainers such as Mr Green and Mr Grieve – have shown they are willing to defy the whip on major issues.

Downing Street sources attempted to play down the mauling by MPs, insisting that while “everybody knows the parliamentary arithmetic” – the loss of Mrs May’s majority as a result of the disastrous 2017 election gamble – the Government had still won the “overwhelming majority” of votes since then.

– Has Mrs May suffered any other setbacks?

The European Court of Justice’s senior legal adviser has indicated that the UK could simply change its mind and abandon Brexit, without needing the approval of the 27 other EU states.

Advocate general Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona’s non-binding opinion said Article 50 allows the “unilateral revocation of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU, until such time as the Withdrawal Agreement is formally concluded”.

Downing Street insisted that it was “not a final judgment” and “does nothing in any event to change the clear position of the Government that Article 50 is not going to be revoked”.

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