Toughest Votes Yet to Come as Brexit Bill Grinds Through Commons

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Theresa May’s flagship Brexit Bill continues its slow journey through Parliament Tuesday and Wednesday, with the sixth and seventh days of its eight-day Committee Stage.

So far the bill, which facilitates moving European Union-derived rules and regulations into U.K. law, has been a dog that hasn’t barked. Despite repeated threats from pro-European Tory lawmakers that they will vote against aspects of the legislation, May’s minority government has been undefeated.

That reflects two things: Scheduling and surrender. First, the government arranged the timetable so the most contentious votes will come in the final days, in particular this Wednesday and next, when it will finish its line-by-line scrutiny in the House of Commons. Second, ministers have backed down or offered concessions each time they looked like they faced defeat.

Monday saw the biggest concession so far, when the government said it would accept amendments giving Parliament more power to scrutinize the thousands of law changes that ministers will make as Britain prepares to leave the bloc.

Toughest Votes Yet to Come as Brexit Bill Grinds Through Commons

Two big arguments are still outstanding. The one that is likely to be at the forefront this week is proposed by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve and would require May to write the terms of her Brexit deal into a law that would have to be passed by Parliament. That could be a problem if May ends up going for a harder Brexit than most lawmakers want.

Sticking Points

The government says its proposed Withdrawal Agreement Implementation Bill fulfills the same object, but while that’s likely to cover issues like citizens’ rights, the exit payment and any transition period, it might not be enough for Grieve and his allies, who want a vote on the full deal.

The other sticking point is May’s attempt to write the date of Brexit, March 29 2019, into the bill. The government’s justification is that it needs to show the EU it’s serious about leaving, but opponents say the negotiations might take longer.

The proposed changes will be put to lawmakers this week and next, with the last votes on Dec. 20. On both remaining points of contention the government looks like it might be defeated. But the fact it hasn’t backed down -- yet -- suggests ministers think they have a chance.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.