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Brexit: British Parliament debates withdrawal bill

The UK parliament has started a debate on when the two-year negotiating period for Brexit should end. Some MPs are questioning whether there should be a fixed time at all.

The British Parliament on Tuesday started debating the controversial "EU Withdrawal Bill" that is set to test Prime Minister Theresa May's increasingly fragile coalition government.

The bill – also known as the "Repeal Bill" – will import decades of EU law into British law.

According to the government, the bill will help businesses by giving them legal certainty after Britain leaves the union in March 2019. But a group of pro-EU Conservatives are skeptical, and they are threatening to block the government unless clear concessions are made to avoid a "hard Brexit."

Read more: Britain must avoid 'fatal' hard Brexit, European business leaders warn

Power struggle

The introduction of 186 pages of amendments to water down the bill are to be debated in the next few weeks.

Labour MPs have also said they will try to get a parliamentary vote on an amendment that would maintain the status quo for a transition period after Brexit.

For its part, the government wants to write in a formal leaving date, a move some lawmakers have criticized for making the timeline of Brexit inflexible.

Pro-Brexit lawmakers fear Britain may never leave the EU. Pro-EU lawmakers are concerned that if a date is fixed, Britain would have no flexibility in talks and may end up with no deal. 

Read more: Brexit Diaries 17: Get ready for a car crash

May's weakness

Successful attempts by Parliament to amend the Withdrawal Bill will challenge May, who is already politically weak after losing her party's parliamentary majority in a snap election in June. In the last few weeks, she has also lost two senior ministers in separate scandals.

The British weekly Sunday Times newspaper has reported that up to 40 Conservative MPs would vote to oust May in a no-confidence vote.

May's government is also negotiating a separate exit deal with the EU in Brussels. Little progress has been made after six rounds of talks as both sides continue to disagree on how much Britain owes the EU for exiting the bloc.

On Monday, Brexit Minister David Davis said that Parliament would get to vote on any final deal in what appeared to be a bowing to parliamentary pressure.

Read more: Brexit: UK Parliament to vote on final deal

amp/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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