Brexit legislation delayed as Government plans for EU withdrawal stall

Tranche of amendments tabled by Tory and opposition MPs heightens risk of Commons defeat

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 19 October 2017 12:48
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Brexit Bill delayed over Government fears it would be defeated in Commons revolt

The Government has delayed its flagship Brexit bill amid concern it could be defeated in a Commons revolt.

MPs were due to debate the second stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill next week but Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said there would be a “pause” in the key legislation when she was outlining upcoming business for the days ahead.

The move prompted warnings the Government is “terrified of possible defeats” as Tory backbenchers joined opposition parties in tabling more than 300 amendments and new clauses to the repeal bill, which will transfer EU law onto the statute books after Brexit.

Ms Leadsom told MPs: “I do just want to reassure honourable members there have been ... 300 amendments and 54 new clauses put forward.

“And it should be reassuring to the House to know that Government is looking very carefully at those amendments and new clauses, to ensure when it does come back to this chamber for its response and for the debate in this chamber – where we have eight days of debate with eight protected hours on each day – that the responses will be well thought through.

“But I’d like to point out to members across the House who may not be aware of this that there’s nothing odd at all about a pause between the second reading and the committee of the whole House.”

Pete Wishart, the SNP’s Commons leader, said the bill had been put on hold “because the fractious Conservative Party cannot agree a solid line on all this”.

He said: “They’re just terrified of any possible defeats, that’s why we’re not seeing it, and there’s talk now that we might not even see the repeal bill before Christmas. We have to see it soon.”

Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz also pressed for answers on reports that the bill would not be subject to line-by-line scrutiny until mid November, following the short Commons recess.

The hold-up comes amid concern the Government’s Brexit strategy is unravelling as Theresa May headed to Brussels to kick-start faltering negotiations with the EU leaders.

Ministers are facing a string of challenges to the bill from pro-EU backbenchers, as several amendments could threaten the Prime Minister’s weakened majority if backed by Conservative MPs.

Tory grandee Ken Clarke has added his name to an amendment calling for the two-year transition deal to be written into law, while others are concerned about “Henry VIII” powers that would allow ministers to bypass Parliament to push through laws after Brexit.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer warned that the delay showed the Government’s Brexit plan was “in paralysis” as the key legislation needs to get through Parliament before Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.

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