Theresa May’s plans for taking Britain out of the European Union remain on track after members of Parliament cleared the way for her Brexit law to advance — but threatened to re-write it later.
In a vote after midnight, lawmakers agreed to allow the EU withdrawal bill to continue its progress through Parliament, by 326 votes to 290. The prime minister won after her government promised to discuss critics’ concerns before they have to vote again, and to consider allowing more time for the next stage of debates on the law. The main opposition Labour Party proposed a first set of amendments within hours. The Brexit bill will formally end Britain’s EU membership and overturn the supremacy of European law in the country. It is controversial because it hands sweeping powers to ministers to change legislation as they see fit, without full scrutiny in Parliament.
“Parliament took a historic decision to back the will of the British people,” May said in an emailed statement after the vote. The bill will give “certainty and clarity” ahead of Brexit and lawmakers “from all parts of the UK” should “work together in support of this vital piece of legislation.”
Having lost her majority in the House of Commons in June’s election, May is vulnerable to rebellions from her own side and relies on the votes of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. Helpfully for her, seven Labour lawmakers disobeyed their own leader Jeremy Corbyn’s orders to vote against the bill, while another 17 abstained.
May says she needs the broad powers in the law because hundreds of British laws will need to be corrected to remove references to the EU after Brexit. But a succession of Conservative lawmakers joined the opposition to warn that these Henry VIII clauses — named after the 16th century Tudor king — need to be watered down at a later stage.
“There have been a lot of arguments in the past about Henry VIII powers and about the executive taking power away from Parliament,” former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer Ken Clarke told lawmakers Monday. “The danger now is not only the consequences of this bill and of the details of Brexit, but that if the House does not challenge this bill and change it, it will be quoted as a precedent for years to come.”
UK to offer troops for EU operations after Brexit
Britain will continue to offer troops to European Union operations after Brexit, as well as agreeing to joint foreign-policy positions with the bloc, even as it continues to link security to a future trade deal.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the future partnership has to be both economic and one of security cooperation, in comments that are likely to irk European negotiating partners. When May first suggested in March that ongoing counter-terrorism cooperation would be contingent on a good deal, she was accused of blackmail.
Security is an area where the UK has much to offer the EU, with the second-largest defense budget in NATO and strong intelligence capabilities. The government will publish a position paper on the subject on Tuesday, it said in a statement that provided little more detail on the contents of the document.
“We’ve made it clear that this new partnership has to be economic and one of security cooperation,” Fallon said on BBC Radio on Tuesday.