In a historic night at Westminster, Members voted 494 to 122 — an impressive majority of 372 — to carry out the result of the EU Referendum, to notify the EU of Britain’s intention to leave and to trigger Article 50, as per the wishes of the people. The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill presented by the Government was passed without a single amendment; nine were put forward and crushed, including the potentially damaging call by the Liberal Democrats for a second referendum. Jeremy Corbyn issued a three-line whip for the Labour Party to support the Bill, although several frontbenchers wanted a free vote and non-conformist Clive Lewis’ resignation has been interpreted as a Labour leadership challenge.
MPs debated passionately and voted to take back control from Brussels. It was difficult for some MPs, who had voted “Remain” but whose constituents wanted to “Leave”. And conversely, “Leave” MPs had to reassure Remainers that Brexit would put the “Great” back into Britain.
Next the Bill goes to the House of Lords for a Second Reading. Some rebel Lords (Lib Dems) may upset the proceedings, as the government does not have a majority in the House of Lords, but it would indeed be extraordinary if the Lords rejected the will of the people and the will of the Commons. Before triggering Article 50, the Government will deliver the Budget which may elaborate on an economic vision post Brexit. In mid-March, some days are set aside for the House of Commons to review (reverse) possible Lords amendments. Without any amendments the Bill then needs Royal Assent from HM The Queen to become law. Incongruously, the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome is on 25 March. The idea is to celebrate the European family and integration, which might be awkward under the circumstances.
If all goes according to plan, a victorious Theresa May will trigger Article 50 as promised on 31March, opening the door for a two-year negotiation to secure a Brexit deal before the 2019 European Parliament elections, which are currently due to be held in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar.