Corbyn accuses May’s Conservatives of creating ‘Shangri-La for bankers’ as Brexit law passes key hurdle
After marathon debate, Brexit law moves forward to a second reading, but it still faces possible amendments
Britain’s parliament backed a second reading of legislation to sever ties with the European Union on Tuesday, a reprieve for Prime Minister Theresa May who now faces demands by lawmakers for concessions before it becomes law.
After hours of speeches for and against the legislation – which May has said is essential for Brexit but critics describe as a Conservative government power grab – lawmakers voted 326 to 290 in favour of moving the EU withdrawal bill to the next stage.
The government had warned that a vote against would force Britain into a chaotic exit from the EU, rather than a smooth departure because the country would lack laws and a regulatory framework to steer the process.
“Although there is more to do, this decision means we can move on with negotiations with solid foundations and we continue to encourage MPs (lawmakers) from all parts of the UK to work together in support of this vital piece of legislation,” May said.
The bill seeks largely to “copy and paste” EU law into British legislation to ensure Britain has functioning laws and the same regulatory framework as the bloc at the time of Brexit.
Despite the win, May now faces a battle against politicians in both the upper and lower houses of parliament who want to force amendments to the bill.
The opposition Labour Party had called on its lawmakers to vote against the bill if the government failed to make concessions. But seven rebelled, with some saying they had to respect the demands of their pro-Brexit voters.
“This is a deeply disappointing result,” said Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer. “This bill is an affront to parliamentary democracy and a naked power grab by government ministers ... It will make the Brexit process more uncertain, and lead to division and chaos when we need unity and clarity.”
The government has defended the bill by saying it will allow Britain to become “masters of our own laws”. However, it also gives ministers wide-ranging powers to amend laws to make them work domestically, often by interchanging the word ‘EU’ for Britain.
Lawmakers both in Labour and May’s governing Conservative Party, expressed fears the government would make substantial changes to legislation without consulting parliament – a charge the government has denied.
Some ministers want assurances that the government will not misuse its power, others want to make sure the protections of workers rights are written into the bill.
“Labour will seek to amend and remove the worst aspects from the bill as it passes through parliament,” Starmer said. “But the flaws are so fundamental it’s hard to see how this bill could ever be made fit for purpose.”
Later on Tuesday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for the UK to retain “full access” to the European single market and accused the Conservatives of wanting to create a “Shangri-La for bosses and bankers”.
“Labour respects the referendum result, but we want a jobs-first Brexit that guarantees full access to the European single market as part of a new trade agreement and relationship with the EU,” he told a trade union conference.
He said the Conservatives wanted to “deliver a deregulated free market tax haven on the shores of Europe, underpinned with a race-to-the-bottom trade deal with Donald Trump – a Shangri-La for bosses and bankers but nothing of the kind for everybody else”.
It was also revealed that Britain wants to keep closer defence ties with the EU after Brexit than other countries outside the union.
The government’s sixth “future partnership paper” stated it wanted to contribute military assets to EU operations after it leaves, and may offer to continue exchanging classified information.
The pledges were part of efforts to counter criticism by EU officials that it is not prepared for negotiations.
European Parliament Brexit chief Guy Verhofstadt on Tuesday warned there had not been enough progress in Brexit talks.
EU leaders are set to decide in late October whether talks on issues, including the bill Britain must pay, have made enough headway to start discussions on future relations.
Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, said: “For the moment we don’t see sufficient progress, clearly.” He urged British Prime Minister Theresa May to address the parliament as part of the negotiating process.
Reporting by Reuters, The Guardian, Agence France-Presse