December 20, 2017 / 12:20 AM / a year ago

Britain's Brexit rebels offer compromise on latest EU exit laws row

LONDON (Reuters) - British MPs who inflicted defeat on Prime Minister Theresa May last week in parliament over Brexit have signalled a possible compromise to avoid another row on Wednesday when legislation taking Britain out of the EU is debated.

FILE PHOTO: Nicky Morgan arrives to attend a cabinet meeting at Number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain February 2, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which will repeal the 1972 legislation binding Britain to the EU and copy existing EU law into domestic law, has tested May’s authority to deliver on her Brexit plan during several days of line-by-line debate.

Last week, 11 lawmakers from her Conservative Party rebelled against their leader, joining forces with the opposition to force through changes giving parliament greater guarantees of a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal.

However, another row - this time over the government’s desire to fix the planned date of Britain’s departure into law - could be averted on Wednesday after rebels said they were prepared to agree to it if another proviso were inserted in the bill allowing that date to be changed if necessary.

Pro-EU Conservative Nicky Morgan, who voted against the government last week, said on Twitter she would back the plan when it comes to a vote. Some of the other rebels also publicly indicated their support.

DIVIDED PARLIAMENT

Last week’s defeat underscored just one of the serious difficulties May faces in taking the country out of the EU.

As well as navigating a divided parliament without an overall majority, she has to please ministers who are deeply split over the country’s long term relationship with Brussels and negotiate a deal from an EU which is keen to send a discouraging message to other potentially wayward states.

The initial move to define March 29 2019 in law as “exit day” was designed to ease pressure on the government from Brexiteers who fear slow negotiations and opposition to the divorce could cause delays.

The government has not confirmed it will accept the compromise plan - which represents a watering-down of its original intention - but has said it will consider its response and remains open to changes that will improve the legislation.

However, ministers have limited room to manoeuvre with over 40 Conservative lawmakers signed up to the proposal - more than enough to defeat May if opposition parties also back it.

“It would be foolhardy to make assumptions either about the votes of colleagues or about the decisions of government. But I am cautiously optimistic that the government will accept my amendments and that they will carry,” said Oliver Letwin, the former minister responsible for brokering the compromise.

Wednesday’s debate is the last in the current stage of the legislating process but the bill will receive further scrutiny in both chambers of parliament over the coming months before it is finally approved.

Reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison

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