LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plans face rejection by the upper house of parliament on Monday, setting the stage for a confrontation with rebel lawmakers later in the week that could affect their minority government.
The ministers are seeking approval for the final drafting of legislation that will end Britain's accession to the European Union next year. However, they have fallen into a dispute with conservative lawmakers in favor of the EU who want parliament to have a say in the exit process if the talks in Brussels fail to reach an acceptable divorce settlement.
This threatens May's authority over his divided Conservative Party, and underscores the balancing act he has to perform to keep those who want a "milder" Brexit, without upsetting supporters of a clean break with the EU
On Monday, the House of Lords will debate different proposals for a "meaningful" vote: the role parliament will play if legislators reject an agreement that can negotiate with the EU, or if it does not reach an exit agreement.
The talks between May and the pro-EU rebels over a compromise plan broke last week at the last minute, leaving two similar but crucially different proposals on the table.
So far, the ministers have agreed to give parliament a symbolic vote on the government's strategy if its initial exit agreement is rejected, but not to give legislators the power to force changes to their plan.
Speaking before the vote, Chancellor Boris Johnson reinforced the government's view that the discussion on the meaningful vote was hypothetical as the ministers hoped to reach an agreement with Brussels that the parliament would approve.
"We are absolutely confident that we will deliver a Brexit agreement that … would be good for the UK, good for our European friends and partners, we will move forward and do it," he told reporters.
The rebels are waiting for more guarantees, warning that they could overthrow the government. The ministers are digging and refuse to give ground for the time being.
A pledge of spending for Britain's public health service in May has also angered some pro-EU lawmakers, who question the government's claim that the new funds are part of a "Brexit dividend": money saved when leaving the block.
The May Conservatives have no majority in the House of Lords not elected, and with the opposition Labor Party deciding to support a rival proposal, the government faces defeat when the debate begins after 1400 GMT.
That would generate a confrontation when the legislation returns to the House of Commons for its vote on Wednesday. This will be crucial for May's attempts to resist a movement seen as a step towards a smoother Brexit, which means closer links with the EU on issues such as customs and regulations.
Both chambers must accept the final draft before it can become law, but the results in the lower house, where the May rules with the support of a small Northern Irish party, are more momentous for their leadership.
The failure to keep his party online would be a problem for several other controversial laws necessary to prepare for the Brexit, even in central issues such as trade and customs policy.
Additional reports by Tom Miles in Geneva; edition by David Stamp