Peers vote to remove exit date from Brexit bill

By Alan McGuinness, Political Reporter
The Government has suffered its 12th Lords defeat on its flagship piece of Brexit legislation.
Peers backed a cross-party amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill - to remove the Brexit date of 29 March 2019 from the legislation - by 311 votes to 233, a majority of 78.They earlier voted in favour of another amendment - to allow Britain's continued participation in EU agencies - by 298 votes to 227, a majority of 71. It also aims to ensure future EU laws can be replicated in the UK once we leave.The latest reversals for the Government come on the sixth and final day of the bill's report stage in the upper chamber.The attempt to delete the exit date was led by the Duke of Wellington, who said he was trying to help the Government and not "thwart the process".
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He told peers: "We know beyond any doubt that for the purposes of this Bill we leave the EU on March 29 2019."But this date should not be defined and specified... in case it becomes necessary and in the national interest to agree an extension as provided in Article 50."Labour's Brexit spokesman Baroness Hayter said scrapping the exit date would "make the task easier for negotiators".She said: "If this amendment is successful, it will remove the straitjacket that the Government are in, I have to say not at the behest of negotiators but at the behest of certain ardent Brexiteers."Let's get the straitjacket out, let's make the task easier for negotiators."
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But Brexit minister Lord Callanan said he saw "no reason" to vote for such a change.He said: "I would reiterate that exit day within the bill does not effect our departure from the EU, which is a matter of international law under the Article 50 process.
"What it does effect, however, is whether we leave the EU in a smooth and orderly fashion."Proposing the EU agencies amendment, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Nick Baines, said there had been suggestions from some quarters that any who proposed changes to the legislation was "a hypocritical remoaner intent on sabotaging the bill and trying to prevent Brexit from ever happening".He told his fellow peers the amendment was "constructive" and aimed to "give some idea as to what sort of milk and honey might lie over the mountain once we have negotiated the wilderness journey".
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The bishop added: "It does everybody a favour to attend to a detail that at least has the virtue of acknowledging the uncertainties ahead, the size and potential costs of the journey upon which we have now embarked and gives one element of shape to what to many looks, to quote another biblical line, somewhat formless and void."Baroness Hayter called on peers to back the amendment, saying: "Every mention in this House and beyond of those agencies have included a plea for us to remain members, associates or partners, with which every such agency is in the frame."She added: "What is clear is that given the wide powers in this bill for minister we must ensure that none of those powers are used to frustrate our continued involvement with such agencies."But in a break with his own frontbench, Labour peer Lord Adonis described the "useless" amendment as having "zero impact".He said: "We should concentrate on things that are of real substance, the customs union, the single market, the referendum, these are real changes."Rising to urge the chamber to reject the amendment, Lord Callanan said he was in the rare position of agreeing with Lord Adonis.
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He said: "The amendment may have been tabled with one eye on the withdrawal agreement, but ministerial colleagues and I have been very clear throughout this Bill's passage, both within this House and in the other place, that this Bill's aim is just to create a functioning statute book as we depart from the EU."Lord Callanan concluded: "I do not believe that anything would be gained from its acceptance in the Bill apart from confusion and uncertainty."
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