Brexit: MPs set to do battle over EU (Withdrawal) Bill

EU flag and Palace of WestminsterImage copyright
EPA

MPs are set for hours of wrangling between now and Christmas as they debate the small print of the government’s Brexit legislation.

Labour and rebel Tory MPs are gearing up to inflict defeats on the government as they aim to get the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill into law.

Brexit Secretary David Davis tried to head off trouble on Monday by offering MPs a vote on the final Brexit deal.

But the surprise move was met with scepticism by Tory rebels.

The Brexit date will be enshrined in law as part of the withdrawal bill – in a move announced by Prime Minister Theresa May last Friday.

  • Parliament to get vote on final Brexit deal
  • Why Davis’s Brexit vote announcement matters
  • Brexit: All you need to know

Mr Davis said on Monday that MPs would be able to debate and vote on any agreement negotiated with the EU by the government – because, he said, the government had decided that the Brexit deal would have to become law via an Act of Parliament.

But he said the UK would still leave the EU on 29 March 2019, whether MPs backed or rejected the deal – making MPs’ vote a take-it-or-leave-it one on the Brexit deal, rather than one which could either halt Brexit or have the deal renegotiated.

The promise of a vote on any final deal was welcomed by Labour and some Tory backbenchers on Monday, with Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer calling it a “significant climbdown from a weak government on the verge of defeat”.

But Conservative MP Anna Soubry said the government’s offer was “completely meaningless” because Mr Davis “couldn’t guarantee that we’d have the vote before we left”.

And if the government failed to reach an agreement with the EU on its post-Brexit relationship Parliament will have no say at all, she added, which was not “right” for such an important decision.

“After all, people voted to take back control – and yet actually, control is going out of Parliament and it’s going into the hands of a very small number of ministers, and I’m afraid to say I think Theresa May is really pandering to 35 hard Brexiteer ideologues in my own party, and that’s not right,” she told BBC Breakfast.

Brexit Minister Robin Walker insisted the government was focused on securing an agreement with the EU that would be backed by the majority of MPs.

Media captionDavis: Parliament will be given time to debate, scrutinise and vote on the final deal with the EU

“What we now need to do is make a success of the process of the leaving the European Union. That is absolutely what this Bill will enable us to do by providing continuity and certainty as we go through that process,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The government says the main aim of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is to copy across EU rules into domestic UK law to ensure a smooth transition on the day after Brexit.

But critics say it is a power grab by the government which will allow ministers to change laws and regulations without going through Parliament first.

MPs have tabled more than 470 amendments – running to 186 pages – for changes they want to see before the Brexit bill is passed into law.

There will be eight hours of debate in the Commons on Tuesday, including discussion of how to interpret 40 years of accumulated EU law in UK law and the status of the European Court of Justice.

A further seven days of debates have been scheduled in the run-up to Christmas, with the second day expected to be given over to Labour’s calls for guarantees on workers’ rights and the environment.

But the government is not thought to be facing the serious prospect of defeat until next month, with a small group of about 10 Conservative rebels reportedly plotting with Labour and other opposition parties to back critical amendments.


What stage is the bill at?

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Reuters

The EU Withdrawal Bill is entering its Committee stage – meaning MPs will scrutinise it line-by-line in the House of Commons.

The debate is set to last for two days this week, although no crucial votes are expected.

There will be six more days of debate at a later date. But if the bill passes this stage, it still has a long way to go.

It will return to the House of Commons with any additional amendments for its report stage and then will have a third reading in front of MPs.

The bill will then have to go to the House of Lords for scrutiny before it can gain Royal Assent and become law.

  • A guide to the EU Withdrawal Bill

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