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British crucial Brexit bill passes first parliament hurdle as opposition warns division

(Xinhua)    18:42, September 12, 2017

LONDON, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) -- British Prime Minister Theresa May's crucial bill to pave the way for Britain's exit from the European Union (EU) cleared its major hurdle in the House of Commons in the early hours of Tuesday.

It was a nail-biting finale at the end of three days of intensive debate with the government winning one of three votes by a thin margin of just 17.

The main vote, to back the European Withdrawal Bill, was won by 326 votes to 290, a government majority of 36.

The margin would have been even narrower if seven lawmakers from the main opposition Labour Party had not defied their leader Jeremy Corbyn and voted alongside the Conservatives. Although a number of Conservative lawmakers had threatened to rebel, no members of the governing party voted against the measure.

In the first round of voting, Labour attempted to win their amendment that would have wrecked the Brexit Bill. Their claim was that the EU withdrawal bill handed sweeping powers to government ministers that would allow them to by-pass the elected parliament. They gained 296 votes, but not enough to challenge the government who notched up 318 votes.

The final vote, to set the program for the bill's journey through the parliamentary committee stages, was won by 318 votes to 301, a margin of just 17.

The bill is aimed at transferring more than 40 years of EU laws into British law, seen as critical in the withdrawal process to ensure legal processes continue to work when Britain and the EU part company in March 2019.

In a statement after the vote, Theresa May said: "Earlier this morning parliament took a historic decision to back the will of the British people and vote for a bill which gives certainty and clarity ahead of our withdrawal from the European Union."

"Although there is more to do, this decision means we can move on with negotiations with solid foundations and we continue to encourage MPs from all parts of the UK to work together in support of this vital piece of legislation."

Labour's Brexit spokesman, shadow secretary Keir Starmer, led the attack on the bill, saying it was a naked power grab by May's government.

Describing the result as deeply disappointing, Starmer said: "This Bill is an affront to parliamentary democracy and a naked power grab by government ministers. It leaves rights unprotected, it silences parliament on key decisions and undermines the devolution settlement."

"It will make the Brexit process more uncertain, and lead to division and chaos when we need unity and clarity," he warned.

He said Labour will seek to amend and remove the worst aspects from the Bill as it passes through parliament.

Labour's Chris Bryant accused May's ministers of ignoring democracy, describing the bill as "utterly pernicious and dangerous."

"It represents the biggest peace time power grab by the executive over the legislature, by the government over parliament, in 100 years," he said.

Tom Brake, Brexit spokesman for the minority Liberal Democrats, called the result "a dark day for the mother of parliaments."

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