Ministers are ready to concede amendments on the Brexit withdrawal bill in the face of opposition from Tory rebels and Labour, the attorney-general has said.
Jeremy Wright, QC, the told Times Law: “No government would say, should say, it is so confident in the perfection of a bill that it will not even listen.”
He continued: “That is not to say it will accept all of [the amendments], but we will listen to them and it is wrong at this stage to discount the possibility that someone comes up with an amendment we will think is sensible and would accept.”
However, the attorney-general strongly defended the use of secondary legislation for the purpose of transferring EU rules and regulations into UK law. Doing so reflected the practical realities of the volume of legislation and was not an arbitrary decision by government, he said.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has been delayed by MPs tabling some 300 amendments and proposing 54 new clauses. About 13 amendments are thought to have enough support from Tories to see the government defeated in a Commons vote, with a former Conservative attorney-general, Dominic Grieve, leading a drive to tighten up the legislation’s language.
Sir Keir Starmer, QC, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary and a former director of public prosecutions, has condemned the bill as “simply not fit for purpose”. He maintained that it would give “huge and unaccountable power to ministers” and said “it puts vital rights and protections at risk”.
Starmer is demanding six changes to the bill, which has yet to return to the Commons for amendments despite MPs having expected to resume debate on the legislation straight after the party conferences.
He said that the government has withheld the legislation from the Commons for two weeks because it fears defeat on at least 13 amendments, which could be brought about by a small revolt of Tory MPs.