EU bill survives as MPs back Brexit date

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The government's key EU Withdrawal Bill has cleared the latest stage of its Parliamentary journey after ministers avoided a defeat on the date of Brexit.

MPs voted in favour of setting Brexit at 23:00 GMT on 29 March 2019 - with the caveat that ministers can change it if necessary.

Theresa May has said this would only happen in "exceptional circumstances" and "for the shortest possible time".

The EU bill has now completed its committee stage.

The EU Withdrawal Bill is a key part of the government's Brexit strategy. It aims to end the supremacy of EU law, which would be copied into UK law in order to ensure a smooth transition on Brexit day.

It has faced hundreds of attempts to change its wording by MPs but only one - to give Parliament a guaranteed vote on the final Brexit deal - has been passed by the Commons so far.

March 2019 is already when the UK is due to leave the European Union - two years after Theresa May formally gave notice of Brexit.

The prime minister's announcement that this would be enshrined in law was attacked by Labour as a "gimmick" and some Conservative MPs had warned it could tie the government's hands if negotiations dragged on longer than planned.

But the compromise offer, which allows the government to change the "exit day" through further legislation, if the negotiations are continuing, saw off a rebellion.

MPs backed adding the date and time to the bill by 319 to 294.

Conservative MPs who had rebelled in last week's vote praised the "Christmas spirit" shown by ministers but Labour described it as a "humiliating cave-in" by the government.