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British MPs take first step to starting Brexit

British MPs take first step to starting Brexit

LONDON: British MPs on Tuesday took a key step towards leaving the European Union, holding their first debate on a bill giving Prime Minister Theresa May the power to start Brexit.

The government is hoping to rush through the legislation in time to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which opens two years of divorce negotiations, by the end of March.

While the two-clause bill is expected to swiftly pass the lower House of Commons, it could be delayed in the upper House of Lords, where May’s Conservative Party does not have a majority.

Its ultimate adoption is in little doubt, however. “It is not a bill about whether or not the UK should leave the EU, or how it should do so,” Brexit minister David Davis said as he opened the first, two-day debate on the legislation. “It is simply about implementing a decision already made, a point of no return already passed.”

At just 143 words, the “European Union Notifica­tion of Withdrawal Bill” has been tightly drafted, making it difficult to amend either to delay the government’s plans or to tie its hands in the talks.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised not to block the bill, although his party — like the wider country — is deeply divided and dozens of his MPs are expected to rebel.

Dozens of May’s Conservative MPs are also opposed to her plan to pull Britain out of Europe’s single market, fearing the damage to one of the bloc’s biggest economies.

But most Conservatives have promised to back the government, as long as ministers keep parliament updated and involved in the process. May has already promised MPs a vote on the final divorce deal.

After the preliminary debate, a vote on Wednesday allowing the bill to move to its next stage is viewed as largely procedural. Over three days next week, however, the Commons will consider substantive amendments on issues such as access to Europe’s single market.

The bill will then move to the Lords for debate from Feb 20, with the government hoping for their approval by March 7.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2017

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