London, United Kingdom | AFP | After navigating the first hurdle of a key Brexit bill, British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday won another parliamentary vote which will help prevent opposition MPs from blocking future legislation.
MPs in the House of Commons voted by 320 to 301 in support of a government motion to guarantee that it holds the majority of places on public bill committees.
The move by the ruling Conservative party was aimed at wresting control of key committees which scrutinise draft laws, which could define how Britain withdraws from the European Union.
Membership of the committees normally reflects the composition of the Commons, meaning that any majority government should be guaranteed control, assuming none of their own MPs rebel.
But the Conservatives lost their majority in a June snap election, requiring them to reach an informal deal with a smaller party in order to govern, but this does not extend to committee membership.
Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the government's attempt to change the rules was an "unprecedented attempt to rig parliament".
Had the government lost Tuesday's vote, Labour would have been able to block future legislation in the committee stage, regardless of whether it could pass on the floor of the Commons.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said the change to the membership of committees would enable the government to push ahead with Brexit.
"If the government has a working majority to pass legislation on the floor of the House, then the government should also be able to make progress with legislation in committees," she told parliament.
"We're getting on with the task set for us by voters, honouring the result of both the EU referendum and the general election," Leadsom said.
But for the Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, the vote amounted to the Conservatives "hijacking parliament".
"It is a bitter irony that Brexiteers who spent their careers championing parliamentary sovereignty have now chosen to sell it down the river," he said.
"This wilful eroding of parliament's ability to scrutinise legislation sets a deeply worrying precedent."
The government has repeatedly been accused of trying to bypass parliament in implementing Brexit.
It failed, for instance, in a court bid to give ministers, rather than MPs, the power to trigger the withdrawal process.
Critics have also accused May of trying to expand executive powers with a landmark bill to transfer EU law into British legislation.
The so-called Repeal Bill passed its first stage in the Commons on Tuesday, but is likely to face further opposition as it enters the line-by-line scrutiny of the committee stage later this year.