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Key Brexit battle begins as repeal bill is tabled

SCRUTINY: Debate in parliament on the EU withdrawal bill may be a chance for Theresa May (below) to shape her Brexit strategy
SCRUTINY: Debate in parliament on the EU withdrawal bill may be a chance for Theresa May (below) to shape her Brexit strategy


PRIME MINISTER Theresa May be­gan a major parliamentary battle over Brexit on Tuesday (14), facing competing demands by MPs to change her strategy as tensions rise in the government.

MPs had 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 La­bour, increasing the risks for May’s 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 the prime minister’s Brexit policy.

MPs, including from the 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, who lost her parliamentary majority following the June election, struggles to assert her authority even over her own cabinet.

Two Cabinet members quit in the past fortnight – defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon and international devel­opment secretary Priti Patel – while two others stand accused of instructing May how to run Brexit.

May 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 (13) amid reports that dozens of Tory MPs were backing a move to oust May.

In the first skirmish on the repeal bill on Tuesday as Eastern Eye went to press, Labour was seeking a vote on an amendment that would extend Brit­ain’s membership of the EU’s single market and customs union, and the ju­risdiction of the European Court of Jus­tice, into a transition period.

The government said it wants an im­plementation period of around two years after Brexit to stop an economi­cally damaging “cliff-edge” – but insists Britain will be fully out of the EU.

To that effect, it has tabled its own amendment putting the date of Brit­ain’s departure onto the face of the bill, which was being debated later on Tues­day, although not taken to a vote.

But this has angered some Conserva­tive MPs.

One of them, former attorney gener­al Dominic Grieve, said it was “utterly pointless and counterproductive” and would remove any flexibility in case the negotiations were delayed.

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

Keir Starmer, Labour’s chief Brexit spokesman, 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. (AFP)