May Repels Early Attempts by Lawmakers to Amend Brexit Bill

  • Commons lawmakers vote down series of opposition amendments
  • Brexit opponents seek to restrict May’s negotiating options

British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Photographer: Andy Rain/EPA

Prime Minister Theresa May overcame early efforts to amend the bill she’s trying to get through Parliament to allow her to begin Brexit negotiations.

May’s Conservative Party only has 329 seats so the results, which kept the House of Commons voting until after midnight, suggest lawmakers in her party largely stayed loyal. The House of Commons voted down two amendments by the main opposition party that required ministers to give Parliament regular Brexit updates. It also shot down attempts requiring May to work with the U.K.’s devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“The bill does one simple thing: it gives the prime minister the lawful authority to start the negotiation process,” Conservative lawmaker Mark Harper told the Commons as he argued against the first set of amendments. “The bill does not need to be improved or amended in any way.”

Lawmakers from Wales and Scotland complained they were not given enough time to make their case in the three-hour debate on the role for their nations in the Brexit process.

For a QuickTake Q&A: Why Brexit’s Detour Through Parliament Matters

Most of those in Parliament who opposed Brexit have now said they will not attempt to block the beginning of exit talks, but this doesn’t mean they’ve given up the fight.

Some hope to tie May’s hands by forcing her to give more details about her plans. Others are aiming to build in mechanisms whereby the decision could be reversed or slowed if the public mood changes during the negotiating process.

The premier says she wants to invoke the European Union’s Article 50, the exit trigger, by the end of March. The debate and votes in the Commons will continue through Wednesday, after which the draft law will go to the upper, unelected House of Lords.

Another vote is pending on whether the government should guarantee the rights of 3 million EU nationals to stay in the U.K. after Brexit. May praised “the contribution to our society and economy” of EU migrants although she is against making them a promise until the rights of Britons living in the EU are similarly ensured. European leaders have not taken that step.

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