Theresa May ditches plan to enshrine an exact Brexit date in law

  • Government waters down plan to fix Brexit date in law after pressure from Conservative rebels.
  • Theresa May accepts an amendment which means Article 50 period can be extended if approved by the EU.
  • EU (Withdrawal) Bill completes its passage through the committee stage after eight days of interrogation.

LONDON – Theresa May has agreed to abandon her pledge to enshrine the exact date that Britain will leave the European Union in law.

The prime minister had originally planned to make March 29, 2019, the legally binding date of Brexit in a move that pleased the Conservative Party’s more staunch Brexiteers.

However, on Wednesday the UK government bowed to pressure from Conservative rebels to amend the EU (Withdrawal) Bill so that ministers will be able to delay Brexit with the EU’s consent if necessary.

The compromise amendment, tabled by Conservative MP Oliver Letwin, was accepted on the government’s behalf by Brexit minister Steve Baker and then approved by the House of Commons by 319 votes to 294.

Here is the moment the amended clause was passed

Tory rebels had threatened to inflict a second embarrassing defeat on the government within the space of a week if it did not agree to the amendment. MPs votes to give Parliament a meaningful vote on a final Brexit deal last week.

Paul Blomfield MP, a member of Labour’s shadow Brexit team, said: “After a humiliating defeat in the Commons last week, the government has now been forced into an embarrassing climbdown by amending its own amendment.

“Theresa May would be well advised to use the Christmas break to reflect on her chaotic approach to Brexit and stop putting party politics above the national interest.”

Backers of the Letwin amendment argue that Parliament may need more time to dissect the withdrawal agreement agreed by Britain and the EU, especially if negotiations run to the final days or even hours of the Article 50 period.

Conservative Party Brexiteers expressed concern earlier on Wednesday that the amendment could be used to delay Britain’s departure from the European Union. However, the prime minister assured them that the amendment will be used only in “exceptional” circumstances.

“I can assure my right honourable friend and the house: We would only use this power in exceptional circumstances, for the shortest possible time, and an affirmative motion would be brought to the house,” she said.

Last night was the EU (Withdrawal) Bill’s final day in committee stage where MPs from across the House have been examining the historic legislation line by line.

The Bill will enter the House of Lords in the New Year, where it is expected to undergo intense scrutiny and could face further amendments.

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