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  1. ITV Report

Brexit bill passes key test in Parliament amid row over plans to set down divorce date in law

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks

Brexit legislation has comfortably passed two votes in Parliament despite a growing row over plans to set an exit date in law.

The Government passed two amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in the legislation's first major Commons test.

The bill, which seeks to transfer European law into British law, is currently facing detailed scrutiny and debate as amendments are put up for vote.

MPs have criticised Theresa May's plan to write into law the date and time at which the UK will leave the European Union, saying it is a "gimmick" and that it could be "positively harmful to the national interest".

Labour condemned the Prime Minister's proposal to have 23:00 GMT on 29 March 2019 enshrined in law as the moment the UK leaves the EU.

Relations within the Conservative party were also described as "stormy" as a result of the Government's handling of Brexit.

The Prime Minister's proposal to enshrine into law the Brexit date has been dismissed as a Credit: PA

Pro-EU Tory Anna Soubry said a private meeting between Conservative MPs and party whips over the plans was difficult, with critics going beyond the usual potential rebels.

"These are people, a lot of them ex-ministers, highly respected, and they are genuinely cross about this," she told the BBC.

"There were some people there who have never rebelled and they are now talking, for the first time ever, of rebelling."

And in further sign of the difficulties faced by the Government senior Tories spoke out in the Commons.

Former chancellor Ken Clarke said the amendment on the date was "not just ridiculous and unnecessary - it could be positively harmful to the national interest".

MPs have eight days to scrutinise the Brexit legislation with a date to be held in the weeks ahead.

Ex-attorney general Dominic Grieve said the move was "very strange" and could damage the Government's negotiating position by limiting the flexibility available to ministers.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the Government's bid to write the date of withdrawal into the law was a "desperate gimmick" from the Prime Minister in an effort to keep her party's Eurosceptics in line.

"The Government's amendments to their own Bill would stand in the way of an orderly transition and increase the chance of Britain crashing out of Europe without an agreement," he said.

"Theresa May should stop pandering to the 'no deal' enthusiasts in her own party and withdraw these amendments. If not, Labour will vote against them to support our own amendments and guarantee a transition that protects jobs and living standards."

Anna Soubry said many Tories were angry over plans to set down a Brexit date in law. Credit: PA

The so-called repeal bill will undergo eight days of detailed scrutiny, with key votes expected later in the process.

Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary David Davis sought to reassure businesses that progress was being made in talks with Brussels and said agreement on an implementation period between the date of leaving the European Union and the start of a new trading relationship could be secured "very early next year".

But the EU's Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt suggested there had been "no progress" in the talks and cast doubt on whether EU leaders would give agree to move onto the next phase - covering the implementation and future relationship - at a summit next month.

David Davis and the European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Credit: PA
  • What is the EU Withdrawal Bill?

The EU Withdrawal Bill intends to repatriate more than 40 years of powers back to Westminster from the EU.

It will repeal the European Communities Act which says EU law is supreme to the UK's.

This means that laws and regulations made while the UK was part of the EU will continue to apply, but they will become British laws rather than EU ones.

It will also set out how the Government will deal with EU laws that cannot be easily converted.

The bill will state that changes cannot be made to EU laws unless there is some deficiency in them or if they cannot easily be converted.

The bill will also ensure the UK leaves the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.