An anti-Brexit demonstrator carries a European Union (EU) flag as he cycles outside the Houses of Parliament in London, U.K. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

May's Brexit Law Passes Hurdle But Rebels Demand Re-Writes

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(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May’s plans for taking Britain out of the European Union remain on track after members of Parliament cleared the way for her Brexit law to advance -- but threatened to re-write it later.

In a vote after midnight, lawmakers agreed to allow the EU withdrawal bill to continue its progress through Parliament, by 326 votes to 290. The prime minister won after her government promised to discuss critics’ concerns before they have to vote again, and to consider allowing more time for the next stage of debates on the law.

The Brexit repeal bill will formally end Britain’s EU membership and overturn the supremacy of European law in the country. It is controversial because it hands sweeping powers to ministers to change legislation as they see fit, without full scrutiny in Parliament.

“Parliament took a historic decision to back the will of the British people,” May said in an emailed statement after the vote. The bill will give “certainty and clarity” ahead of Brexit and lawmakers “from all parts of the U.K.” should “work together in support of this vital piece of legislation.”

Having lost her majority in the House of Commons in June’s election, May is vulnerable to rebellions from her own side and relies on the votes of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. Helpfully for her, some Labour lawmakers indicated they would disobey their own leader Jeremy Corbyn’s orders to vote against the bill.

Henry VIII Powers

May says she needs the broad powers in the law are because hundreds of British laws will need to be corrected to remove references to the EU after Brexit. But a succession of Conservative lawmakers joined the opposition to warn that these Henry VIII clauses -- named after the 16th century Tudor king -- need to be watered down at a later stage.

“There have been a lot of arguments in the past about Henry VIII powers and about the executive taking power away from Parliament,” former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer Ken Clarke told lawmakers Monday. ”The danger now is not only the consequences of this bill and of the details of Brexit, but that if the House does not challenge this bill and change it, it will be quoted as a precedent for years to come.”

The debate was on the second reading of the bill, when lawmakers are asked to vote on the general principle, rather than the details. Ahead of the ballot, May’s spokesman James Slack told reporters that the government had “been clear that we are going to listen to the concerns.” Several Tories said that on this basis they would back the bill -- at this point.

The government also survived a vote on the timetable for debating the bill. It will be limited to 8 days. A defeat there would have flagged early signs of trouble for May.

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