UK lawmakers vote to strike Brexit date from bill

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London (AFP)

Britain's House of Lords on Tuesday voted to remove the date of Brexit from the front of key legislation on the process, the latest in a string of defeats for Prime Minister Theresa May's government.

Lords voted 311 to 233 for a cross-party amendment to omit the scheduled March 29, 2019, date from the face of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which sets the legal framework for Brexit.

It is the 12th defeat suffered by May's Conservative minority government as its flagship legislation works its way through parliament.

The bill is now expected to go back within weeks to the House of Commons, which could reject the amendments approved by the Lords.

Richard Newby, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, said: "It was frankly ridiculous to enshrine this date in law from the get-go.

"In negotiations you have to be flexible and willing to change direction if it is not ibn your best interests, and putting this date down as a bench-mark was never in the best interests of the UK."

Earlier Tuesday, Lords pushed through another amendment 298 to 227 to allow Britain to continue participating in the bloc's agencies after Brexit.

The withdrawal bill is crucial to Britain's departure from the EU, providing for the repeal of the 1972 act that made the country a member and transferring four decades of its regulations onto the British statute books.

Britain adopted the March 29, 2019, date for Brexit when it activated Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, setting the clock ticking on a two-year countdown to its departure.

The House of Commons passed the landmark bill by a majority of 29 earlier this year after weeks of debate and a damaging government defeat in that chamber.

Under parliamentary procedure, the legislation passed to the upper House of Lords chamber for scrutiny before returning to the Commons for a final vote.