Theresa May’s flagship EU Withdrawal Bill was passed by the Commons
At the end of a marathon final day of debate on the flagship measure, MPs voted by 324 to 295 to give the legislation its crucial third reading.
The vote set the stage for a showdown with the House of Lords, where anti-Brexit peers are threatening to try to dilute or even wreck the Bill.
And Labour’s bitter divisions over Europe were laid bare yesterday when 48 of the party’s MPs defied Jeremy Corbyn by backing an attempt to keep Britain in the EU single market and customs union. They ignored their leader’s call to abstain by supporting an amendment tabled by the Scottish National Party. It was defeated by 322 votes to 99.
Ministers were relieved last night when the months of Commons clashes about the Bill – which lays the legal groundwork for a smooth Brexit by transferring EU regulations to the UK statute book – were concluded.
This is a critical piece of legislation
EU Exit Secretary David Davis said: “We are pleased that the Bill has successfully completed this stage of its passage through Parliament.
“From the beginning our approach has been to work constructively with MPs from across the House wherever possible to improve the Bill.
“This is a critical piece of legislation that aims to maximise certainty for individuals and businesses after our exit.
“We are looking forward to working with peers as the Bill enters its next stage of scrutiny in the House of Lords at the end of this month.”
A series of attempts by Labour, Lib Dem and SNPs to amend the Bill were defeated in a marathon 20 Commons votes yesterday.
Opening the third reading debate last night, Mr Davis said the Bill had reached an “historic milestone”.
“This Bill is essential for preparing the country for the historic milestone of withdrawing from the European Union,” he said.
“It ensures that on day one we’ll have a statute book that works, delivering the smooth and orderly exit desired by people and businesses across the United Kingdom, and being delivered by this Government.”
He said the Bill was a complex piece of legislation that MPs had spent more than 80 hours discussing, including more than 500 amendments and new clauses.
48 Labour MPs MPs defied Jeremy Corbyn by backing an attempt to keep Britain in the EU single market
Mr Davis added: “All of us as elected representatives have a shared interest in making this Bill a success in the national interest.
“The Government has said time and again that we would listen carefully to all suggestions put forward and where honourable members made a compelling case we would respectfully consider and act accordingly.
“In this debate we’ve often heard the very best of what this House is here to do.”
He went on: “I believe this House has risen to the occasion in ensuring this Bill continues its journey throughout Parliament in a much improved form.
“I commend it to the House, I believe Mr Speaker this is a historic occasion.”
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer attacked the Bill as “not fit for purpose” and claimed it contained a string of “serious defects”.
“This Bill has never been fit for purpose: it was not fit for purpose when it started its life last year and after 64 hours at committee and 10 hours at report it is still not fit for purpose,” the Labour frontbencher said.
Criticising minister’s refusal to accept Labour’s proposals for amending the Bill, he added: “We have been talking to a brick wall.
“The Government has not accepted any of the points that the opposition has raised; they have conceded some ground on their own side – they have not taken seriously the propositions and the arguments that we have put forward on this side and that is unusual in my experience of dealing with Bills.
Sir William Cash urged the House of Lords to accept the Brexit result
“They have simply, robotically voted down all opposition amendments.”
Senior Tory backbencher Sir William Cash, chairman of the Commons EU Scrutiny Committee, said: “The Bill reflects the will of the people on 26 June 2016 and the will of this House.”
He urged the House of Lords to accept that the referendum had been triggered by Parliament and its result “must be carried through.”
During the earlier report stage of the Bill yesterday, former Cabinet minister Justine Greening warned of a Brexit backlash from younger voters.
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The ex-Education Secretary, who quit the Government during a reshuffle earlier this month, said: “The bottom line is that looking ahead if Brexit doesn’t work for young people in our country, in the end it will not be sustainable.
“When they take their place here they will seek to improve or undo what we’ve done and make it work for them.
“So we do absolutely have a duty in this House to look ahead and ensure that whatever we get is sustainable and works for them.”
Asked about Ms Greening’s comment, Theresa May’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister is clear that she is determined to deliver a Brexit which works for all sections of society. Of course that would include young people.”