Green light to Brexit bill


British MPs gave the green light on Wednesday to a landmark Brexit bill after weeks of debate and a damaging government defeat, but the legislation now faces a battle in the upper chamber. The House of Commons voted by a majority of 29 to approve the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which repeals the 1972 law that made Britain a member of the European Union and transfers four decades of EU rules onto the British statute books. MPs approved the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill by 324 votes to 295 – majority 29 – at third reading, with the Government also seeing off a series of proposed amendments during a marathon two-hour voting period. MPs had tabled more than 500 amendments and spent more than 80 hours in debate, and Davis said the legislation was heading to the Lords in an “improved” state. But Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the main opposition Labour party, said ministers ignored its concerns and the bill was “still not fit for purpose”.
Though, Prime Minister Theresa May has been warned her Brexit could be undone by future generations as key legislation cleared the House of Commons. Brexit Secretary David Davis told MPs ahead of the vote that this bill is essential for preparing the country for the historic milestone of withdrawing from the European Union. However, the unelected upper House of Lords may insist on further changes when peers begin their scrutiny on January 30, while ministers still face opposition from the devolved Scottish and Welsh administrations. The bill is only one of several that Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority government must pass to prepare Britain for its withdrawal from the EU in March 2019. Opposition to the bill focused on its sweeping powers to change EU regulations as they are transferred and to authorise any Brexit agreement with the bloc. Eleven members of May’s Conservative party joined with opposition lawmakers last month to force a change ensuring that parliament will have a “meaningful vote” on the final withdrawal deal. Fearful of another loss, the government conceded to give MPs the power to amend the date and time of Brexit, set out in the bill as 2300 GMT on March 29, 2019, if talks with the EU appeared to overrun. Peers are overwhelmingly pro-European, but they are mindful of their role to scrutinise, not block, legislation. A source in the opposition Labour party in the Lords said there were “going to be big battles” in the coming months on constitutional issues. MPs spent more than 80 hours considering the Bill, including more than 500 amendments and new clauses. It will appear before the House of Lords by the end of January, where it is expected to receive a rocky ride as it continues its parliamentary journey. For Labour, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the Bill was “not fit for purpose” and insisted there must be a meaningful vote on any deal. He was of the view that if the Prime Minister thinks that she can come to this House, put forward her proposed Article 50 deal, and if she loses that vote that she can carry on regardless or walk the UK off a cliff with no deal then she’s got another thing coming. An analysis of the division list for the third reading vote showed four Labour MPs voted with the Government in support. They were Frank Field (Birkenhead), Kate Hoey (Vauxhall), John Mann (Bassetlaw) and Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton).
The Scottish National Party (SNP) made a last ditch attempt to thwart the bill, which would see policymaking in devolved areas returned from Brussels to London, and not to the local executive in Edinburgh. In the final debate in the Commons on Wednesday, other pro-European MPs took the opportunity to criticise the government’s Brexit strategy. After reaching a deal on the key separation issues in December, Britain is due to start talks with the EU this month on a transition deal before moving on to the future relationship. Britain wants a new trade agreement to replace its membership of the EU’s single market and customs union, although critics warn it has unrealistic expectations. Leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage has suggested he might be open to a second referendum in Britain on EU membership, to silence critics.