British Government hints at retreat on plan to enshrine Brexit date into law

The proposal would have legally set down the Brexit date as 11pm on 29th March 2019.

British Government hints at retreat on plan to enshrine Brexit date into law

EU and UK flags | Image: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images

A senior British Cabinet minister has hinted that the Conservative party may retreat from its plan to formally enshrine a Brexit date into law.

The UK Justice Secretary admitted ministers will "listen" to concerns over the proposed amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, following a backlash from Tory MPs.

The amendment aims to legally set the date for Britain’s exit from the EU as 11pm on 29th March 2019.

This week, as the bill returned to the House of Commons for line-by-line scrutiny by MPs, a sizeable number of Conservative backbenchers voiced their anger at the amendment as they fear it could hinder the UK's flexibility in divorce negotiations.

Theresa May's proposal, which was only announced a week ago, was branded "mad" and "silly" by prominent pro-Remain Tories - with their number prompting suggestions the Government could face a humiliating defeat over the amendment.

Their interventions saw the group of around 15 Conservatives branded "Brexit mutineers."

Speaking at a lunch in Westminster on Thursday, Mr Lidington signalled the Government may now make a reverse on the plans.

He said: "As the Prime Minister says, various constructive suggestions have been made during the committee debate about how the bill might be improved and obviously we will listen to ideas coming from colleagues across the House during the bill's progress in both the Commons and Lords."

Downing Street also insisted the Government would "listen to the views" of critics.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We put forward the amendment. That amendment remains."

Under the terms of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, a departing EU member state will leave two years after triggering the legal clause, unless there is an agreement to prolong exit negotiations.

This means Britain is already on course to leave the bloc by 30 March 2019.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs appeared to voice his support for a second EU referendum.

Lloyd Blankfein, whose bank is investing in a new European headquarters in London, wrote on Twitter: "Reluctant to say, but many wish for a confirming vote on a decision so monumental and irreversible.

"So much at stake, why not make sure consensus still there?"

Mr Blankfein has recently praised both Paris and Frankfurt, which have been viewed as hints he is preparing to move his company's operations abroad following the UK's exit from the EU.

But Brexit supporters have accused the banking boss of seeking to distract from the firm's recent performance.