EU repeal bill passed by MPs

British houses of parliament seen across river at sunset
MPs voted through the bill at its second reading last night

The ‘repeal bill’ paving the way for Brexit was passed by 326 to 290 MPs last night despite controversy over so-called ‘Henry VIII’ powers it confers on ministers.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who instructed his MPs to vote against the bill, had called it a government ‘power grab’ but seven Labour MPs ignored his three-line whip (strongest-possible request) to vote it down.

The bill, which will not come into force until the UK has actually left the EU, is intended to smooth the way for Brexit by incorporating much of EU law directly into UK domestic law, to be repealed as and when parliament may choose in the future.

Controversially, it also gives ministers wide powers to change laws they consider are no longer appropriate, without consulting parliament – the sections which Labour opposes.

Some Conservative MPs had also expressed reserves about these ‘Henry VIII’ clauses (referring to powers of the old absolute monarchs), however none voted against the bill last night.

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The government had said voting against the bill risked a ‘chaotic’ Brexit without a suitable legal framework in place.

Prime Minister Theresa May called the result “a historic decision to back the will of the British people and vote for a bill which gives certainty and clarity”.

It meant “we can move on with negotiations with solid foundations,” she said.

However Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer called the vote “deeply disappointing” and “an affront to parliamentary democracy”.

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said the Labour rebels had "walked hand in hand" with the Conservatives to give the government “unprecedented new powers” and said it was a “dark day for the mother of parliaments”

"They have abdicated their responsibility to scrutinise legislation and relinquished parliamentary sovereignty to Theresa May's unrepresentative cabal,” he said.

Despite the concerns over the powers given to government ministers, the bill includes some safeguards, for example clauses saying changes they make should not create new taxes, new criminal offences or alter or remove protections under the 1988 Human Rights Act (which incorporated into UK law rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights).

Last night was the bill’s ‘second reading’ and there may now be renewed attempts to propose amendments before it moves on to a ‘committee stage’.

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