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Parliament supports EU Withdrawal Bill - but threat of Brexit rebellion remains


To have marshalled enough parliamentary discipline to avoid any Conservative or DUP rebellion - while also seeing seven Labour MPs join them in the voting lobbies - will be savoured as a victory for Theresa May, not least on a matter as traditionally divisive for her party as Europe.

But her acknowledgement on Tuesday morning that "there is more to do" is a significant understatement.

Numerous Conservative MPs have expressed deep concern about the anti-democratic impact of the bill in its current form, and have made it abundantly clear there is a price to pay for their midnight support.

As dawn broke, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon also gave signals the Government understood the terms, telling Sky News it was right that Parliament consider the detail of the bill, insisting ministers would be "listening".

On the Conservative benches, former attorney general Dominic Grieve, former business minister Anna Soubry and former chancellor Ken Clarke were among those who chose not to pull the trigger on a rebellion on Monday night.

However, the gun is still loaded and if serious changes are not made as MPs in committees dissect the bill line by line, it may yet be used. Indeed, up to 12 Tory MPs are believed to already be backing amendments tabled for consideration by committee.

The shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, has also made clear he intends to make the committee stage of the bill as testing for the Government as possible, despite the divisions within his own party that Monday night's vote exposed.

Labour's amendments have already been tabled - focused on watering down the executive powers given to ministers to make law with limited parliamentary scrutiny, securing protections on human rights and environmental standards, and ensuring devolved powers remain devolved.

But Sir Keir is also suggesting the bill may be already beyond repair - arguing the Prime Minister should have dropped it and started again, rather than burdening Parliament with the task of mangling the current form into something more acceptable to those who opposed its second reading.

The Government is seeking to grant itself a majority on the selection committee - the body which chooses the make-up of MPs on the standing committees that scrutinise legislation - another step which the opposition parties have labelled a "power grab".

The controversy lies in the fact that the Conservatives have no outright majority and therefore, critics say, the balance should be equally split between Labour and the Tories.

Not so, argue the Government - pointing to the fact they have a majority on the floor of the House with DUP support that will see the motion pass, and therefore a majority on the selection committee is warranted to avoid logjams in the business of legislating.

The critical question will be whether any so-called "constitutionalists" on the Tory benches, who grudgingly nodded the EU Withdrawal Bill to its next stage, feel this is a step too far.