U.K. govt wins first votes to amend key Brexit bill
LONDON: Britain’s government survived the first parliamentary challenges to its Brexit bill Tuesday evening, as MPs began voting on various amendments tabled on the landmark legislation.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority government defeated an amendment backed by Welsh and Scottish lawmakers that would have given Britain’s devolved legislatures a veto over any final withdrawal agreement.
It won the vote – the first of many expected in the coming days and weeks as lawmakers debate some of the hundreds of amendments put forward – by a comfortable majority.
MPs also voted to keep the opening clause of the law, repealing the 1972 European Communities Act that took Britain into the bloc.
But May’s government, rocked by a string of scandals that forced out two ministers this month and divided by Brexit, faces potential defeats on other amendments ahead.
Earlier, lawmakers had their first chance to scrutinize the EU Withdrawal Bill, which would formally legislate for the end of Britain’s membership and transpose four decades of European Union legislation into U.K. law.
They fired the opening salvos in what is expected to be a fraught parliamentary battle, with a heated debate on the date Britain leaves the EU – and whether to use London or Brussels time.
MPs debated one of the government’s own motions – to enshrine in law the moment Britain leaves the EU as March 29, 2019, at 23:00 GMT in London and midnight in Brussels – but were not voting on the matter Tuesday.
Britain triggered the two-year Article 50 process of leaving the EU on March 29 this year, but this can be extended if all 28 EU member states including Britain agree.
The bill, also known as the Repeal Bill, is intended to ensure legal certainty and avoid a damaging “cliff edge” when Britain leaves the bloc. But critics warn it represents a power grab by allowing ministers to amend EU laws as they are transferred, while others see it as a chance to shape May’s Brexit policy.
MPs also debated a Labour amendment Tuesday – one of almost 200 pages tabled – to extend the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice into a post-Brexit transition period.
The government said it wants an implementation period of around two years after Brexit, but insists Britain will be fully out of the EU by then.
The showdown comes as May, weakened by a June snap election in which she lost her parliamentary majority, struggles to assert her authority even over her own Cabinet.
She is also under increasing pressure from Brussels to come up with a financial offer to keep negotiations on track, with a crunch summit of EU leaders looming in mid-December.
A spokeswoman for May’s office said the prime minister stressed that as powers were repatriated from Brussels back to Britain, a significant number would be passed down to the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. –