Cross-party attempts to force changes were defeated by majorities as slim as 10 – with europhile veteran Tory Ken Clarke rebelling in one to side with Labour – or not pressed to a Commons vote after ministers promised to rethink.
The Government’s decision not to keep the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law after Brexit dominated the third day of MPs’ detailed scrutiny of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.
The Bill repeals the law that took Britain into the then Common Market in 1973.
It will also import most EU law into UK statute, to provide legal certainty for people and businesses after exit.
But it states that the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights will not be part of British law.
Ministers said the Charter just catalogued existing rights and that the laws and principles underpinning it would continue in UK law.
Justice Minister Dominic Raab said the Government was determined to build on the UK’s “long-standing tradition of liberty and rights. We have always been, and will continue to be, a beacon of freedom for the world”.
Britain had a “record of pioneering, defending and protecting human rights standards since well before the EU existed.
He said: “We are leaving the EU but our commitment to pan-European standards, human rights and the European co-operation in this area remains undimmed.”
However, the Government also sought to reassure MPs by promising a memo spelling out how the Charter’s rights to things like life, liberty, privacy, marriage, thought, education, work, and equality, will be covered in UK law after Brexit.
Tory former minister Mark Harper told critics of the Government that it was “offensive nonsense” to claim rights would not be protected in the UK unless the Charter was in place.
But Tory former Attorney General and leading Brexit-sceptic Dominic Grieve warned there was a risk that rights without the Charter could be “nibbled away” or not updated to keep up with future developments.
He also questioned the proposal to stop Britons suing after Brexit over failures to comply with “general principles” of European law, for example if an EU law which Britain had kept was defective or unfair.
Mr Grieve agreed not to force an immediate vote after Solicitor General Robert Buckland told him: “We are listening and we are prepared to look again at this issue.”
Mr Buckland said people should have ways to challenge the state’s actions and seek damages and the Government would bring forward its own amendments at a later stage after discussions with Mr Grieve.
Mr Grieve said it was “a really important concession which reflects the disquiet shown across the House”.
But europhile Tory former Cabinet minister Ken Clarke warned the Government against “fobbing us off with more discussions and then there’ll be amendments which won’t actually change the policy”.
He also claimed that the Charter did not harm but “presumably because it’s got the words ‘European’ and ‘rights'” it was being dumped “in a gesture to the hard right wing of my party”.
Labour MP Chris Leslie said scrapping the Charter was “a bone, a scalp, Theresa May felt she had to throw” to rebellious hardline Brexiteer Tories.
After eight hours of debate, MPs held five votes on different aspects of the Bill.
They included a Labour amendment to keep the Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law, which was defeated by 311 votes to 301, a slender majority of 10, with Mr Clarke the sole Tory rebel against the Government.
A Labour bid to widen the scope of “general principles” of EU law which would be part of British law after Brexit until the end of any transition period was defeated by 315 votes to 296, Government majority 19.
A Labour MP’s amendment requiring Parliament to be told of changes in EU laws on family-friendly employment rights and gender equality, and committing the Government to considering following suit in Britain, was defeated by 314 votes to 295, Tory majority 19.
A Labour MP’s bid to protect the right to obtain damages after Brexit in respect of government failures before exit day to comply with EU obligations was defeated by 315 to 295, majority 20.
A final vote, to retain a section of the Bill concerning future rights in UK law to challenge EU laws, saw the Government win by 313 to 295, majority 18.
The Withdrawal Bill will return in coming weeks for further intense scrutiny in the Commons. It will undergo similar challenge in the House of Lords once MPs have completed all their stages of consideration.