Brexit: Bill to trigger Article 50 to be passed within 2 weeks

The UK Government will seek to rush through legislation starting the Brexit process within a fortnight, with Labour divided over whether to back it or not.
Brexit Secretary David Davis. Picture: AFP/Getty ImagesBrexit Secretary David Davis. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Brexit Secretary David Davis. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The 132-word European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Billwas published and received its first reading this afternoon, with five days of debate scheduled over the next two weeks.

It is expected to clear the Commons on Wednesday 8 February, ahead of an end of March deadline for triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and launching Brexit negotiations with the EU.

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Explanatory notes attached to the bill make clear that it does not require legislative consent from devolved assemblies, although Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to hold a vote of MSPs at Holyrood on whether Article 50 should be triggered.

Publication of the bill has re-opened divisions within Labour over Brexit, with Jeremy Corbyn reportedly set to impose a three-line whip on his MPs demanding that they back the Brexit trigger despite several of his front benchers opposed to give Theresa May a “blank cheque”. Labour’s only Scottish MP, Ian Murray, is reported to be ready to rebel against his party leader.

MPs reacted with anger after it was confirmed that the detailed scrutiny stages - where dozens of amendments are expected to be considered - will be allocated just three days.

The SNP has said it will seek to attach 50 amendments to the bill. Alex Salmond called the timetable “disgraceful”, and Labour MP Chris Leslie accused the government of seeking to “gag parliamentarians”.

“This is the most significant law we’ve ever debated on our relationship with Europe and yet the Government will only give it an eighth of the time that was spent on the Maastricht Treaty,” Mr Leslie said.

Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis said: “The British people have made the decision to leave the EU and this government is determined to get on with the job of delivering it.

“So today we have introduced a Bill in Parliament which will allow us to formally trigger Article 50 by the end of March.

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“I trust that Parliament, which backed the referendum by six to one, will respect the decision taken by the British people and pass the legislation quickly.”

The two-clause bill states that the Prime Minister “may notify, under Article 50 (2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU”.

The Government was forced to draw up the legislation after losing an appeal at the Supreme Court on whether legislation was needed to trigger Brexit.

SNP Commons leader Pete Wishart pressed the Government to publish a Brexit White Paper before the bill is scrutinised by MPs, after Theresa May agreed to demands for the government to put its negotiation strategy before parliament.