Government mocked over 'Brexit date get-out' in crucial legislation
The Government stands accused of quietly adding an amendment to its crucial Brexit legislation offering a get-out to its promise of leaving the EU at a specific time and date.
At the weekend Theresa May sparked anger among Remain campaigners by saying Britain will drop out of the bloc at 11pm on 29 March 2019.
Brexit Secretary David Davis tabled an amendment to the mammoth European Withdrawal Bill that would cement the date in law in a bid to mollify hard-Brexit campaigners.
But it was claimed today that he tabled another amendment allowing ministers to change the plan without consulting MPs.
Pro-EU campaigners accused the Government of being a "complete shambles" and making a "dog's breakfast of Brexit".
But the Department for Exiting the European Union said ministers would not be able to change the exit date.
The new addition states it is “consequential” on the previous promise and suggests it would hand the government the power to change the law “including its operation in connection with of exit day”.
Tory ex-minister Dominic Grieve – who has emerged as the most powerful Tory rebel on Brexit – said the change showed the Government was “playing around” with important legislation.
He explained that after creating a “sort of sop” to Brexit campaigners, ministers were handing themselves the power to “override that end date”.
“This highlights to me that we are not behaving in a grown-up fashion here,” he told the BBC.
“These are really important issues that need to be considered in this legislation and this playing around with a very complex piece of legislation is not helpful.”
James McGrory, executive director of the pro-EU Open Britain group, told PoliticsHome: “Even by their own standards, the Government are a complete shambles over the Withdrawal Bill, as it returns to the House of Commons.
“First they give themselves the power to unilaterally determine the day we leave the EU. Then they promise to enshrine it in law through the Withdrawal Bill. And now they’re seeking another amendment to once again take power away from Parliament and give it to Ministers."
He added: “This chaotic Government is making a dog’s breakfast of Brexit. Nobody told the public the process would be this complicated and voters have every right to keep an open mind about Brexit as we come closer to exit day.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the European Union told PoliticsHome: "This clause needs to be changed to make sure that the Government amendment on putting the date of departure on the face of the Bill functions properly.
"That is it's sole purpose - this was set out in the Secretary of State's explanatory notes when the amendment was laid last week.
"This clause cannot be used to amend exit day."