Published: Thu, June 14, 2018
People | By Neil Grant

Theresa May avoids Commons defeat after Brexit climbdown

Theresa May avoids Commons defeat after Brexit climbdown

Facing the prospect of losing a vote on a crucial amendment to the government's flagship Brexit legislation - which was created to empower parliament to vote down the final deal without risking a "no-deal" exit from the bloc - ministers intervened with a concession at the 11th hour even as MPs were wrapping up debate on the controversial measure.

Earlier May suffered a setback when junior justice minister Phillip Lee, who has always been critical of Brexit strategy, resigned and said he would vote against the government.

She said her constituents "want to have a sense that we can turn the tap on and off when we choose".

The European Union Withdrawal Bill, a complex piece of legislation meant to disentangle Britain from four decades of EU rules and regulations, has had a rocky ride through Parliament. The House of Lords has inserted 15 amendments to soften the terms of Britain's departure. But May is facing a potential rebellion from some Conservative lawmakers who want to retain close ties with the bloc after the United Kingdom leaves in March 2019. Given that after November 30, the House of Commons looks set to be empowered in the negotiations, it would not be in Barnier's interest to negotiate a harder form of Brexit before the U.K.'s self-imposed deadline.

But Britain - and its government - remain divided over Brexit, and European Union leaders are frustrated with what they see as a lack of firm proposals from the U.K about future relations.

During three and a half hours of tense debate on amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill, government whips held whispered conferences with a handful of Tories on the Commons benches.

"That was the decision of the British people. and whatever we do, we're not going to reverse that", he told the BBC.

Labour said May had been forced to avoid a "humiliating defeat" and "to enter negotiations with her backbenchers".

"It's not practical, it's not desirable and it's not appropriate", he said.

Parliamentary debates about complex legal amendments rarely rouse much heat, but passions run high over anything to do with Brexit. But pro-EU lawmakers warned they could rebel again if the promise was not met.

The Daily Express, another pro-Brexit tabloid, issued a thinly-veiled threat to lawmakers, saying they should "Ignore the will of the people at [their] peril".

Nick said: "You were told what to do, why won't you do it?"

But he promised an "open and transparent" approach to policymaking, adding "there is nothing up my sleeve and when we go into government there will be no surprises".

Theresa May is facing one of the biggest tests of her leadership, with Tory rebels threatening to vote against their own party to force through amendments to the bill.

May's government is divided between Brexit-backing ministers such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who support a clean break with the European Union, and those such as Treasury chief Philip Hammond who want to keep closely aligned to the bloc, Britain's biggest trading partner.

Not at all. Among the many issues outstanding ahead of Britain's planned withdrawal date of March 29, 2019 is the question of what happens to the Northern Irish border.

A paper laying out the U.K. government position on future relations, due to be published this month, has been delayed until July because the Cabinet can not agree on a united stance.

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