May wins first 5 votes on EU withdrawal bill in committee despite Tory backlash over fixing Brexit date – as it happened


Evening summary

Several Tory MPs have expressed strong opposition to a government plan to insert an amendment into the EU withdrawal bill saying Brexit will definitely happen at 11pm on 29 March 2019.Anna Soubry said this morning some backbenchers were so angry about this that they were considering voting against the government for the first time. (See 10.18am.) In the debate Ken Clarke, the former chancellor, described the amendment as “utterly foolish” and “silly” on the grounds that it would stop the UK from extending talks with the EU if that was agreed by other European governments. He said:

It is quite unnecessary to actually close down our options as severely as we are with this amendment when we don’t know yet [what will happen in the Brexit talks], when it is perfectly possible that there is a mutually beneficial, European and British, need to keep the negotiations going for a time longer to get them settled.

Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, made the same point. (See 5.48pm.) He said:

I have to say I find this amendment by the government so very strange, because it seems to me to fetter the government, to add nothing to the strength of the government’s negotiating position, and in fact potentially to create a very great problem that could be brought back to visit on us at a later stage.

Geoffrey Cox, Tory MP for Torridge and West Devon, said of setting a fixed Brexit day:

Let us suppose our own negotiators wish an extension, it is curtailing the flexibility and room for manoeuvre of our own negotiators.

And the former minister Jonathan Djanogly said he was unsure about why an exit date should be fixed, noting this would also fix the date of the transition agreement. He said:

I can only see downsides in terms of the government losing control of one of the levers it could use to control the negotiations.

Ministers have won the first five committee stage votes on the bill quite comfortably. Even with all the main the opposition parties joining forces to vote against it, the government won with majorities of around 20.

Dominic Raab, the justice minister, has announced the government will amend the bill so that it forces ministers introducing new Brexit-related laws to show that they are compatible with the Equalities Act. (See 9.15pm.)

Sir Oliver Letwin, the former Conservative Cabinet Office minister, has described the part of the bill dealing with retained EU law as a “frightful mess”. If it were not changed, it would be “massacred” in the House of Lords, he said. (See 10.27pm.)

Leave and remain supporting Conservative MPs have criticised the Daily Telegraph for describing Tories critical of the bill as “Brexit mutineers”. (See 10.57pm.) Even Steve Baker, a strongly pro-Brexit minister in the department for exiting the EU, said he did not approve of the Telegraph’s attempt to divide his party. (See 11.29pm.)

That’s all from me.

Thanks for the comments.

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