Fri, Jun 22, 2018 - Page 6 News List

British PM May defeats Brexit rebels

DIVISIONS REMAIN:While the withdrawal bill cleared a major hurdle, the PM faces more tumult in parliament in the months to come over other pieces of legislation

AP, LONDON

The British government on Wednesday passed its flagship Brexit legislation in parliament, but it remains locked in a tussle with lawmakers over the direction of the nation’s departure from the EU.

The EU Withdrawal Bill was approved after British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government narrowly won a key vote.

The House of Commons rejected by 319-303 a proposal to require parliament’s approval before the government agrees to a final divorce deal with the EU — or before walking away from the bloc without an agreement.

Later in the day, the withdrawal bill — intended to replace thousands of EU rules and regulations with UK statute on the day Britain leaves the bloc — also passed in the unelected House of Lords, its last parliamentary hurdle.

It is to become law once it receives royal assent, a formality.

A majority of lawmakers favor retaining close ties with the EU, so if the amendment requiring parliamentary approval had been adopted it would have reduced the chances of a “no deal” Brexit.

That is a scenario feared by businesses, but favored by some euroskeptic members of May’s Conservative minority government, who want a clean break from the EU.

May faced rebellion last week from pro-EU Conservative lawmakers, but avoided defeat by promising that parliament would get a “meaningful vote” on the EU divorce agreement before Brexit occurs in March next year.

Pro-EU lawmakers later accused the government of going back on its word by offering only a symbolic “take it or leave it” vote on the final deal and not the ability to take control of the negotiations.

Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer accused May of telling parliament: “Tough luck. If you don’t like my proposed deal, you can have something much worse.”

The rebels sought to amend the flagship bill so they could send the government back to the negotiating table if they do not like the deal, or if talks with the EU break down.

The government claimed that would undermine its negotiating hand with the EU.

“You cannot enter a negotiation without the right to walk away,” British Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis told lawmakers. “If you do, it rapidly ceases to be a negotiation.”

However, Davis also told lawmakers it would be for the speaker to decide whether lawmakers could amend any motion on a Brexit deal that was put to the House of Commons.

The concession was enough to get Conservative lawmaker Dominic Grieve, a leader of the pro-EU rebel faction, to back down and say he would support the government.

Grieve said the government had acknowledged “the sovereignty of this place [parliament] over the executive.”

While the withdrawal bill cleared a major hurdle, the government faces more tumult in parliament in the months to come over other pieces of Brexit legislation.

It has been two years since Britain voted by 52 percent to 48 percent to exit the 28-nation EU after four decades of membership and there are eight months until the UK is due to leave the bloc on March 29 next year, but Britain — and its government — remains divided over Brexit and EU leaders are frustrated with what they see as a lack of firm proposals about future relations.

May’s government is divided between Brexit-backing ministers such as British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson, who support a clean break with the EU and those such as British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who want to keep closely aligned to the bloc, Britain’s biggest trading partner.

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