Brexit plans survive Commons test despite Tory rebellion fears

Theresa May's plans for Brexit have survived another test in the Commons after concessions offered by ministers averted a rebellion by Tory backbenchers.

Potential rebels were told that a document setting out how the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights will be reflected in UK law will be published on December 5 and ministers promised a further amendment to the so-called repeal bill to address concerns raised by senior Tories including former attorney general Dominic Grieve.

But former Cabinet minister Ken Clarke issued a warning to ministers that they could not keep "fobbing off" would-be rebels in an indication that further battles remain for the Prime Minister as the Brexit legislation progresses through Parliament.

Ken Clarke
Ken Clarke

Mrs May's lack of a Commons majority means she is vulnerable to any revolt by her MPs, but the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill survived a third day of line-by-line scrutiny unscathed with a series of attempts to rewrite it seen off by margins as small as 10 votes.

Away from the parliamentary battle, Mrs May was warned an increase in the financial offer to Brussels will not necessarily secure the trade talks she desires unless there is also further movement on the issues of the border with Ireland.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman declined to confirm reports that a meeting of senior ministers on Monday had given Mrs May the green light to make a higher offer to Brussels on the "divorce bill" the UK will pay to settle its liabilities on quitting the EU.

Mrs May is expected to signal to European Council President Donald Tusk at a meeting in the Belgian capital on Friday that she is ready to consider a settlement in the region of £38 billion, well short of the £53 billion being sought by Brussels.

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But she is not thought likely to name a precise figure which Britain is prepared to pay until she has a clear idea of what kind of trade deal is available with the remaining EU, with Downing Street insisting "nothing's agreed until everything's agreed".

Mrs May's spokesman would say only "specific figures or scenarios are all subject to negotiation".

An increased offer to Brussels is aimed at securing agreement from EU leaders that they will give the green light to moving on to trade talks at a summit on December 14-15.

But Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney warned that an enhanced financial offer would not secure the UK the breakthrough it is seeking, unless concerns over the border with Northern Ireland were also resolved.

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Mr Coveney said there was "a lot of solidarity" among the 27 remaining EU members for Dublin's position that Northern Ireland must retain the regulatory framework of the single market and customs union in order to avoid creating a hard border with the Republic.

He told the Evening Standard: "Anybody who thinks that just because the financial settlement issue gets resolved... that somehow Ireland will have a hand put on the shoulder and be told, 'Look, it's time to move on.' Well, we're not going to move on.

"This is a much bigger issue than trade. This is about division on the island of Ireland.

"I will not be an Irish foreign minister that presides over a negotiation which is not prioritising peace on the island of Ireland... We're not willing to move on without more assurance on the border."

Meanwhile Downing Street insisted that European Court of Justice jurisdiction over EU nationals in the UK will end after a two-year transition period following Brexit.

What has the Court of Justice done for me? Find out how ECJ rulings affect the lives of EU citizens here:

-- EU Court of Justice (@EUCourtPress) November 17, 2017

Reports suggested the meeting of the Brexit Cabinet sub-committee on Monday evening had left the door open for some continuing involvement of the Luxembourg court after leaving the EU.

But Mrs May's official spokesman told a regular Westminster media briefing that the Government expected the ECJ's role to be unchanged during an "implementation period" of around two years following the official Brexit date in March 2019, but "post that period, the jurisdiction of the ECJ will come to an end".

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