A crucial bill paving the way for Brexit passed its first parliamentary hurdle in the early hours of Tuesday morning, with seven Labour MPs defying their leader Jeremy Corbyn and voting with the government.
Frank Field, Kate Hoey, and Dennis Skinner were among the seven Labour MPs who defied the party whip and voted to allow the progress of the EU withdrawal bill, which aims to convert all existing EU laws into domestic laws in time for Brexit.
The Commons voted 326 to 290 in favour of passing the bill, which will now move into committee stage, where MPs are expected to try to amend the legislation. Theresa May said the passage of the bill will ensure legal "certainty and clarity" as Britain withdraws from the EU.
“Although there is more to do, this decision means we can move on with negotiations with solid foundations and we continue to encourage MPs from all parts of the UK to work together in support of this vital piece of legislation," the prime minister said.
Chuka Umunna, the Labour MP who has campaigned for a soft Brexit, said the vote was a "historic defeat for parliamentary sovereignty", because the bill will transfer unprecedented powers to the executive.
Stephen Gethins, of the Scottish National Party, said the passing of the bill was "a dark day for devolution and democracy in the UK, and another step closer towards the damaging impact the Tory government’s Brexit strategy – or lack of – will have on the UK’s economy, jobs, and living standards."
No Conservative MPs rebelled against the government, despite some being opposed to May's approach to Brexit.
A Labour amendment that sought to stop the bill passing was defeated by 318 votes to 296.
The votes were held after midnight because dozens of MPs took part in the debate. Late nights are likely to be a regular occurrence for MPs as parliament works through the complicated legislation required to unwind Britain's relationship with the EU.
Labour opposed the second reading of the bill in a major vote in the early hours of Tuesday. The party has insisted it was not voting against Brexit itself but the use of secondary legislation in the bill – so-called Henry VIII powers – which it fears will allow ministers to change potentially crucial laws without full parliamentary scrutiny.
The government has defended the use of such powers, saying they are necessary to make minor changes that will allow the comprehensive Brexit legislation to pass through parliament efficiently.
A number of Tory MPs have also expressed nervousness about these powers, but backed the bill at second reading. They are, however, expected to seek amendments at committee stage, when MPs go through the legislation line by line.
Caroline Flint, a former Europe minister who represents the fiercely pro-Brexit Don Valley constituency in Sheffield, was jeered by her Labour colleagues as she said in debates on Monday night that she didn't believe the bill was "hugely controversial".
"If it was abolishing workers' rights, abandoning paid holidays, and ending pollution control, that would be different, but it does not," she said.
Flint, who appeared to abstain, agreed that changes to the bill were needed to ensure there was no "ministerial power grab".
But she added: "Life post-Brexit is not a choice between nirvana and a living hell. Some changes will be better, some worse, and much will pass unnoticed. We either work to make the best of it or simply damn it for not being perfect.
"Whatever side of the debate you fall on, if you honestly accept the result of the will of the British people, then you are honour-bound to see it through and make the best of it."
Field, the veteran MP for Birkenhead, said: "Tonight I will be voting for the only option – for the referendum result to be implemented. That was the wish of my constituents and that was the wish of the country. ... I'm on the side of the majority of people who voted to come out."
But, he warned, the government was storing up trouble with a "mega bill" and needed to make urgent changes to the way it was scrutinised.
Corbyn insisted on Monday that Labour was not anti-Brexit but had major concerns about the bill's process. "This is a power grab by the government at the expense of our democratically elected parliament," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One.
There were three votes at the close of debate at midnight on Monday night – on Labour’s "reasoned amendment", on the main second reading motion, and on the programme motion that limits the committee stage to 64 hours over eight days.
Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Emily Ashton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Spence is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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