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- The EU (Withdrawal) Bill passes its second reading in the House of Commons by 326 votes to 290. Opponents warn the bill amounts to an “unprecedented power grab” if passed in its current form. Tory MPs call on the government to amend legislation to limit ministerial powers. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn suffers substantial rebellion among MPs in Leave-voting areas.
LONDON – Theresa May has cleared her first major parliamentary hurdle in the Brexit process, after the EU (Withdrawal) Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons.
The bill, which is designed to transfer all existing European law into British law, was voted through by 326 to 290.
The prime minister described it as a “historic decision to back the will of the British people”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had ordered his party to vote against the bill, which he says amounts to an “unprecedented power grab” by ministers.
However, the bill passed with a majority of 36 after the Labour leader suffered a rebellion by MPs representing areas which voted to Leave the EU. A total of seven Labour MPs voted in favour of the bill with six abstentions.
“I’m on the side of the majority of people who voted to leave,” Labour MP Frank Field told MPs explaining his decision to defy the Labour whip and vote with the government, while Labour MP Caroline Flint, who abstained, said the vote was a question of “respecting the outcome of the referendum”.
“I have never broken the whip at all but I do believe in respecting the outcome of the referendum, in respecting what I said to my electors in a general election just a few months ago,” she told the BBC.
Labour described the result as “deeply disappointing”.
“This is a deeply disappointing result,” Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said.
“This Bill is an affront to parliamentary democracy and a naked power grab by Government Ministers. It leaves rights unprotected, it silences Parliament on key decisions and undermines the devolution settlement.
“It will make the Brexit process more uncertain, and lead to division and chaos when we need unity and clarity.
“Labour will seek to amend and remove the worst aspects from the Bill as it passes through Parliament. But the flaws are so fundamental it’s hard to see how this Bill could ever be made fit for purpose”.
‘Attempt to demean the role of parliament’
Despite winning the vote on second reading, May is facing pressure to amend the bill before it enters UK law.
Throughout the two days of debate on the legislation large numbers of Conservative backbenchers called for changes to the legislation, in order to limit ministerial powers.
Conservative MP for Eddisbury, Antoinette Sandbach, described the powers contained within the bill as an “unacceptable attempt to demean the role of parliament.”
Former Chancellor Ken Clarke called for “substantial amendments” to the bill while former Conservative Attorney General Dominic Grieve said it would strip citizens of their rights to challenge the government.
Even leading Conservative Brexit supporters criticised aspects of the bill.
Long-time Brexit campaigner Edward Leigh called for the government to be “generous” and make amendments to the bill but played down fears that the government would abuse so-called Henry VIII powers.
“Henry VIII is a bastard but he’s my kind of bastard,” he told MPs.
On Tuesday MPs will vote on a motion allowing the government a majority on all parliamentary bill committees, despite the Conservatives’ failure to win a majority in the general election.
Last night Labour MPs lined up to accuse May of seeking an “elective dictatorship,” through parliament and the law.
Remain campaigner Stephen Kinnock warned that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” adding that May was attempting to grab a dangerous level of power to rewrite or scrap long-standing laws and rights.
Kinnock complained that the bill, which will allow ministers to use delegated powers to rewrite hundreds of laws after Brexit without full parliamentary scrutiny, would turn parliament into a “spectators’ gallery”.
However, others were more positive about the bill. Leading Hard Brexit campaigner Suella Fernandes said that Brexit had “emasculated” British politics and led to a “sacrosanct belief in experts” and “an unjustified emphasis on political correctness and polls.”
“Brexit, through this bill, is a chance to reignite the ability to enthrall through politics, law and justice,” she told MPs.