May be­gins par­lia­men­tary bat­tle over Brexit Bill

Tough votes ahead where rebel Tories could ally with op­po­si­tion on key amend­ments

The Straits Times - - WORLD -

LON­DON Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May was slated to be­gin a ma­jor par­lia­men­tary bat­tle over Brexit yes­ter­day, fac­ing com­pet­ing de­mands by MPs to change her strat­egy as ten­sions rise among her scan­dal-hit min­is­ters.

MPs have their first chance to scru­ti­nise the EU With­drawal Bill, which would for­mally end Bri­tain’s mem­ber­ship of the European Union and trans­fer four decades of EU leg­is­la­tion into UK law.

The gov­ern­ment faces po­ten­tial de­feat on key amend­ments to the Bill if rebel Con­ser­va­tive MPs ally with the main op­po­si­tion Labour Party, in­creas­ing the risks for Mrs May’s per­ilously weak mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment. The gov­ern­ment said it would en­sure le­gal cer­tainty when Bri­tain leaves the bloc in March 2019.

But crit­ics warn the EU With­drawal Bill, also known as the Re­peal Bill, rep­re­sents a power-grab by min­is­ters, while oth­ers see the leg­is­la­tion as a chance to shape Mrs May’s Brexit pol­icy.

Law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing mem­bers of Mrs May’s own Con­ser­va­tive Party, have tabled 188 pages of amend­ments to the Bill, which will be de­bated in groups over eight days spread over the com­ing weeks.

The show­down comes as the Prime Min­is­ter, weak­ened by a June elec­tion in which she lost her par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity, strug­gles to as­sert her au­thor­ity even over her own Cab­i­net.

Two min­is­ters have quit in the past fort­night while two oth­ers stand ac­cused of in­struct­ing Mrs May how to run Brexit.

The Premier 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.

The pound dropped on Mon­day amid re­ports that dozens of Con­ser­va­tive MPs were back­ing a move to oust Mrs May.

The tough­est votes are ex­pected in the com­ing weeks, as Con­ser­va­tive MPs seek to re­duce the pow­ers the Bill gives to min­is­ters to change EU laws as they are trans­ferred across.

On the eve of the de­bate, the gov­ern­ment made an ap­par­ent con­ces­sion to rebels by promis­ing a sep­a­rate piece of leg­is­la­tion that would al­low Par­lia­ment to have a bind­ing vote on any Brexit agree­ment.

Labour’s chief Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said the pro­posal was “a sig­nif­i­cant climb­down from a weak gov­ern­ment on the verge of de­feat”.

How­ever, Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis con­ceded that even if MPs failed to back that leg­is­la­tion – the With­drawal Agree­ment and Im­ple­men­ta­tion Bill – Bri­tain would still leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Re­ports that dozens of Con­ser­va­tive MPs were back­ing a move to oust Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May caused the pound to drop on Mon­day.

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