LONDON – The UK’s controversial Home Market Bill easily passed its latest hurdle in the House of Commons on Tuesday night.
It passed by 340 votes to 256, with only a small number of Tory MPs rebelling and not voting for the bill.
The bill seeks to give ministers the power to rewrite sections of the Withdrawal Agreement signed by the UK government and the European Union last year. When Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted in the House of Commons it would violate international law, many Tories were dismayed and threatened to block the bill from going through Parliament.
Downing Street ultimately compromised, reducing the prospect of a great rebellion by agreeing to an amendment that would give MPs a vote before the government could use any of the bill’s powers to violate international law.
Ultimately, not a single Tory MP actively voted against the bill in the final stage, although 21 abstained, including former Prime Minister Theresa May who earlier said she could not support the bill. A number of these abstentions were simply due to the absence rather than a denial of support.
However, the legislation remains a key point of contention between the European Union and the UK government as future negotiations on the relationship continue, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič confirming on Monday that the EU has de again demanded that “the contentious parts of the draft law on the internal market” be withdrawn by the end of September.
British Cabinet Minister Michael Gove said Monday after a meeting with Šefčovič that the disputed provisions would remain in law.
Passed third reading, the bill now passes through the UK’s upper house, the unelected House of Lords.
The government does not have a majority in the Lords, who have the power to block the passage of a law by amending it and sending it back to the Commons. Several conservative peers have publicly condemned the anti-international law aspect of the bill – including former pro-Brexit Tory leader Michael Howard – making a smooth passage unlikely, although the Lords cannot block it completely.
This article has been updated with additional information.