U.K. Signals Climbdown on Setting Brexit Date in Legal Stone

  • Justice secretary says government will ‘listen’ to rebels
  • Former attorney general has described proposal as ‘mad’

Theresa May

Photographer: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

A senior minister in the U.K. government dropped a strong hint that Prime Minister Theresa May is looking for a way to ditch her attempt to write the date of Brexit into its flagship piece of legislation.

The climbdown comes in the face of a rebellion from her own Conservative lawmakers. The draft legislation that will transcribe European Union law into the U.K. statute is undergoing careful scrutiny, with parliament going through it line by line and considering the hundreds of amendments that have been proposed.

The suggestion causing the most argument is one from the government to fix the hour and day of Brexit, an idea described as “mad” by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve.

“There are various constructive suggestions that have been made during the committee debates about how the bill might be improved,” Justice Secretary David Lidington said, when asked about the exit date proposal. “Obviously, we will listen.” 

Although the bill has survived two days unscathed, it is clear from speeches in the debates so far that May’s government will either have to give way or lose votes.

Lidington played down the significance of the proposal, which May made less than a week ago, describing it as a signal of her determination. He said that it merely made explicit a date that was implicit in the bill anyway.

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