Theresa May's Brexit timetable thrown into chaos as Tory civil war deepens

  • Theresa May forced to delay passage of the EU withdrawal bill due to Tory rebellions.
  • MPs are concerned that the bill will hand ministers sweeping powers to rewrite British laws.
  • Delay comes as the EU says Brexit negotiations have reached “deadlock”.
  • Chancellor Philip Hammond accused of ‘treachery’ as Tory civil war over Brexit deepens.

LONDON — Theresa May’s Brexit timetable has been thrown into chaos after she was forced to delay the passage of the government’s central piece of Brexit due to a series of looming Tory rebellions.

The delay comes as Brexit talks with the EU reach “deadlock” and a growing Conservative civil war over the future of the chancellor Philip Hammond spills out onto today’s front pages.

The EU Withdrawal bill was due to reach committee stage in the House of Commons next week after it passed second reading in September but has been delayed due to the threat of the government being defeated.

Rebel Conservative MPs are pressing for a series of amendments to the legislation against the wish of the government, and Tory whips have been given more times to make compromises with those who oppose the bill.

Many Tory MPs are concerned that the bill, which is designed to transfer all existing EU law into domestic law, will hand ministers unconstrained powers to rewrite Britain’s entire legal settlement.

The Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom told MPs that the bill will be delayed after Tory backbenchers voiced concerns about the “Henry VIII” powers being given to ministers once the UK leaves the European Union.

She said: “There are some 300 amendments and 54 new clauses being proposed, quite rightly, by members who have very real concerns about the bill.

“Those are being closely evaluated. That is taking a bit of time to have proper, thoughtful, well-considered responses.”

Labour claimed it had found more than a dozen amendments that had the support of seven or more Conservative MPs, which could cause the government an embarrassing series of defeats.

Brexit deadlock

David Davis and Michel BarnierWiktor Dabkowski/DPA/PA ImagesDavid Davis and Michel Barnier

The delay came as the EU’s chief negotiator said Brexit talks had reached “deadlock” over the question of Britain’s divorce bill.

A leaked European Council paper today reveals that Brexit trade talks will now almost certainly be delayed until at least Christmas, although member states will begin “preparatory talks” in advance of formal negotiations.

The delay to negotiations has thrown May’s Brexit timetable into doubt. The prime minister hopes to pass eight Brexit-related bills before Britain leaves the European Union.

The EU withdrawal bill, formerly known as the ‘Great Repeal Bill,’ is the first hurdle for May to clear, but it faces strong opposition from the House of Lords, Labour and a number of Tory MPs.

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer told the Guardian: “The Tories’ repeal bill is simply not fit for purpose. It would give huge and unaccountable power to ministers and puts vital rights and protections at risk.

“Theresa May must start listening to the legitimate concerns of Labour and some of her own MPs and urgently change approach.”

The bill was only backed by some Conservative MPs on the understanding that they would push for changes in the committee stage. Tory backbencher Anna Soubry told Business Insider: “the government must listen to us.”

Last month a House of Lords committee warned that the legislation will give “excessively wide” powers to ministers, and recommended a new scrutiny procedure to deal with secondary powers.

MPs are scheduled to spend eight days scrutinising the bill at committee stage before amendments are voted on, after which it will move to third reading and then the House of Lords.

The delay comes as May faces calls from Brexiteer Tory MPs and Brexit-supporting newspapers to sack her chancellor Philip Hammond.

In recent days Hammond has warned that the economy is already suffering due to Brexit and warned that planes may not be able to fly in and out of the UK if Britain fails to get a deal.

Hammond was accused by a Daily Mail editorial of “treachery” with one leading Brexit-supporting commentator saying he should be “tried for treason”.

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