Government passes key Brexit bill

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Theresa May's flagship Brexit bill has cleared its final parliamentary hurdle after she avoided a backbench rebellion with an eleventh hour concession to pro-EU Tories.

MPs voted by 319 to 303 to reject a House of Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would have ensured the Commons would have the chance to block a "no deal" Brexit.

The legislation subsequently returned to the Upper House in the final stage of "parliamentary ping-pong", where it passed without a vote.

The Prime Minister welcomed the passage of the bill - which transfers EU regulations onto the UK statute book - as "a crucial step in delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit".

"Today's votes show people in the UK, and to the EU, that the elected representatives in this country are getting on with the job, and delivering on the will of the British people," she said.

Earlier, there were dramatic scenes at Westminster as MPs were told shortly before the key vote that an official ministerial statement would be issued on Thursday making clear it is ultimately for Speaker John Bercow to decide whether they get a "meaningful vote" on a no-deal withdrawal from the EU.

The concession was accepted by leading pro-EU Tory Dominic Grieve, who was greeted with jeers of "shame" from the opposition benches when he declared he would back the Government.

But it was dismissed as a fudge by Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon and described as meaningless by Labour whips.

Despite the concession six Tory rebels voted for the amendment, while on the Labour side four pro-Brexit MPs defied their whips to vote with the Government against it.

Mr Grieve had tabled an amendment to the bill, requiring MPs to be given the opportunity to approve or reject the Government's plans for the next steps in the case that no agreement can be reached with Brussels by Brexit Day in March next year.

With the Government instead offering only an unamendable "neutral motion" allowing MPs to take note of the situation, Mrs May was thought to be facing a knife-edge vote.

Downing Street's determination to force their motion through was indicated when Tory whips made clear they would not abide by a parliamentary convention allowing votes to be "nodded through" from ambulances and cars in the courtyard outside if MPs are too ill to physically pass through the voting lobbies.

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