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Theresa May could ditch plan to enshrine Brexit date in law to avoid Commons defeat, Cabinet minister hints

Theresa May could ditch plan to enshrine Brexit date in law to avoid Commons defeat, Cabinet minister hints
2 min read

Theresa May could ditch her plan to enshrine in law the date Britain leaves the European Union to avoid a humiliating Commons defeat, a Cabinet minister has signalled.

Justice Secretary David Lidington refused to rule out the possible U-turn and instead said the Government would "listen to ideas coming from colleagues across the House" on how its EU Withdrawal Bill could be improved.

Around 20 Conservative MPs are thought to be willing to rebel against a government amendment which would write a withdrawal date of 11pm on 29 March, 2019, into the legislation, claiming it is unnecessary and ties the hands of UK negotiators.

That would be enough to wipe out the Prime Minister's slender Commons majority.

At a Westminster lunch today, Mr Lidington - a former Leader of the Commons - was asked whether the Government could simply withdraw the amendment before it comes to a vote.

He said: "There are various constructive suggestions that have been made during the committee debates about how the bill could be improved and obviously we'll listen to ideas coming from colleagues across the House during progress in both the Commons and Lords.

"All that that clause was designed to do was clarify, put beyond doubt, what is already inherent in the wording of Article 50. Article 50 says that after two years from the date of notification, unless there is a withdrawal agreement that comes into effect earlier, at the two year point the treaties cease to apply to the country that is leaving, so that is written into European law."

His comments are a far cry from what Mrs May say when she announced the plan last week.

"Let no-one doubt our determination or question our resolve, Brexit is happening," she wrote in the Daily Telegraph. "It will be there in black and white on the front page of this historic piece of legislation."

Brexit Secretary David Davis added: “Our amendment makes it crystal clear that the UK is leaving the EU at 11pm on March 29 2019.

"We've listened to members of the public and Parliament and have made this change to remove any confusion or concern about what 'exit day' means." 

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