Theresa May pledges to listen to MPs on Brexit Bill
British prime minister defends legislation on UK’s EU departure amid growing opposition
Britain’s prime minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street, in central London, on her way to the Houses of Parliament to speak at prime minister’s questions. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images
Theresa May has promised to listen to the concerns of British MPs about a major Bill to facilitate Brexit when the proposed legislation is debated in the House of Commons on Thursday. But as Labour promised to vote against the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, a former Conservative attorney general said that no sovereign parliament should support the legislation in its current form.
The prime minister said the Bill, which repeals the law that brought the UK into the EU and transfers EU rules into British law, is essential to implementing last year’s referendum vote to leave the bloc.
“It’s also the single most important step we can take to prevent a cliff-edge for people and businesses, because it provides legal certainty. We’ve made time for proper parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit legislation, and I look forward to the contributions of MPs from across the House. But that contribution should fit with our shared aim: to help get the best Brexit for Britain,” she said.
MPs will debate the Bill at its second reading on Thursday and next Monday, with whips expecting it to survive a vote on Monday night. When the legislation returns to the Commons next month, however, Conservative rebels are expected to work with the opposition in an attempt to amend it.
The Bill’s critics have described it as a government power grab which will allow ministers to use “Henry VIII powers” to change huge numbers of laws with little parliamentary scrutiny. Former attorney general Dominic Grieve said on Wednesday that it would involve an unacceptable extension of the government’s powers at the expense of parliament.
“It seeks to confer powers on the government to carry out Brexit in breach of our constitutional principles, in a manner that no sovereign parliament should allow,” he wrote in the Evening Standard.
The Bill would not come into force until after the UK leaves the EU, but Mr Grieve said that MPs should be guaranteed that there will be a vote on the final Brexit deal before the legislation comes into effect.
“Parliament should ensure that the withdrawal Bill cannot be brought into force until the final agreement being negotiated by the government has become crystallised. Otherwise we are simply leaving it to the executive to decide what is best. This is an abdication of our responsibility,” he said.
At prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, Ms May did not directly address the leak of a Home Office document calling for an immediate end to free movement from the EU after Brexit. But she defended her government’s commitment to control immigration.
“There is a reason for wanting to ensure that we can control migration, it is because of the impact that that migration can have, that net migration can have on people, on access to services, on infrastructure, but crucially it often hits those at the lower end of the income scale hardest,” she said.
Business organisations condemned the proposals in the leaked immigration document. Sky News reported on Wednesday that business leaders are also refusing to sign a letter drafted by Downing Street in support of the government’s approach to Brexit.