UK PM Theresa May averts new Brexit defeat over exit date compromise

Pro-EU Tories said they would support flexibility on the date

UK PM Theresa May averts new Brexit defeat over exit date compromise

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaving 10 Downing Street in London during talks with DUP leader Arlene Foster | Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

The British Prime Minister Theresa May has averted another defeat on her Brexit bill after rebels said they would back a compromise on her plans to cement the UK's exit date into law.

Pro-EU Tories issued a joint statement saying they would support the amendment allowing flexibility on the UK's exit date, saving Mrs May from another embarrassing defeat.

Dominic Grieve, a former UK attorney-general, issued a statement on behalf of those who rebelled or abstained in last week's vote, describing the compromise as a "welcome resolution to the problem."

"By restoring flexibility to altering the date of exit if needed, [the amendments] reduce the risk of a chaotic Brexit through last-minute failure which might be readily curable by a change to the date. We are pleased the government has responded to our concerns and will support these amendments," he said.

The British government and rebels were at loggerheads over Mrs May's decision to put the planned date and time of Brexit - 11.00pm Irish time on March 29th 2019 - on the face of the bill.

Remainer rebels warned that enshrining the exit date in law could tie the UK's hands in negotiations and warned the whips they would rebel on the issue.

The compromise struck on Friday - orchestrated by the whips - gives MPs the "power to amend the definition of 'exit day" to a later date - providing the potential for the UK and the EU27 to agree to an extension of Article 50 negotiations.

The amendment, tabled by four senior backbenchers appeared to satisfy both sides.

Downing Street had wanted to avoid a major showdown with rebels ahead of the Christmas break, after rebels defied the government last week to give parliament a "meaningful" vote on any divorce deal with the EU.

An amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill was backed by 309 MPs, compared to 305 who supported the Government bill remaining unchanged.