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May’s landmark EU withdrawal bill passes first parliamentary hurdle

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s landmark legislation to end the United Kingdom’s membership in the EU has passed its first parliamentary hurdle.

MPs passed the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill by 326 votes to 290 on Monday, giving the Conservative government a majority of 36 and paving the way for greater powers to be handed to government ministers.

All Conservative MPs voted in support of the legislation while seven Labour lawmakers also joined them, defying their leader Jeremy Corbyn’s orders to vote down the new law.

The legislation would repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and convert directly-applicable EU laws and regulations into UK law. It is designed to incorporate about 12,000 EU laws and regulations into UK statute in March 2019 when the country leaves the EU.

The May government says the bill, designed to disentangle Britain from more than 40 years of EU lawmaking, is the first step in implementing last year’s EU referendum.

May called the vote a “historic decision to back the will of the British people.”

“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,” she added.

The Labour Party says it backs Brexit but it has opposed the bill because it represents a “power grab” by giving the government the ability to amend the EU laws as they are transferred without proper scrutiny.

Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, called the vote “a deeply disappointing result” and described the legislation as “an affront to parliamentary democracy and a naked power grab” by the government.

Nearly 52 percent of Britons opted to leave the bloc during the EU referendum in June last year. The United Kingdom formally triggered the Brexit process on March 29 and divorce negotiations officially began on June 19.

EU officials have been complaining that the British side has been weaseling out of its obligations, failing to address three key points in previous Brexit talks.

The three main points highlighted by Brussels negotiators include: EU citizen rights, Northern Ireland’s border and the divorce bill.

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