Westminster has taken the first step towards delivering Brexit, backing legislation to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in a ballot that split Labour and was supported by just one of Scotland’s MPs.
The House of Commons voted by 498-114 to give a second reading to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill and rejected an SNP-led bid to block the legislation.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s demand that his party accept the EU referendum result reopened divisions in his party, as 47 MPs defied a three-line whip to vote against the Brexit trigger and more than a dozen abstained.
Two members of Mr Corbyn’s shadow cabinet resigned ahead of the vote as Labour sources confirmed rebels among Mr Corbyn’s top team would be sacked. Several more were expected to quit last night.
Among Scotland’s 59 MPs, only Tory Scottish Secretary David Mundell voted in favour of the bill.
The Prime Minister confirmed the government will publish a White Paper setting out its Brexit strategy today, following pressure from MPs to release the document before a final debate and vote on the Article 50 Bill next week.
Labour’s spokeswomen for the environment, Rachael Maskell, and equalities, Dawn Butler, both stepped down, joining early years spokeswoman Tulip Siddiq and shadow Wales secretary Jo Stevens.
Ms Butler wrote on Twitter: “[I] can’t let down future generations voting against poor excuse of a bill.”
Responding to the resignations, Mr Corbyn said: “MPs have a duty to represent their constituents as well as their party, and I understand the difficulties that MPs for constituencies which voted Remain have in relation to the European Union Withdrawal Bill. However, it is right that the Labour Party respects the outcome of the referendum on leaving the European Union.”
Ian Murray, Labour’s only Scottish MP, was among the rebels, telling the House of Commons that he was voting against the Article 50 trigger “with a heavy heart” in order to respect the 78 per cent vote to remain in the EU in his constituency. Mr Murray said: “I will do so in the knowledge that I will be able to walk down the streets of Edinburgh South, look my constituents in the eye and say to them that I have done everything I possibly can to protect their jobs, their livelihoods and the future of their families.”
Earlier, during Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May told MPs that they had a “very simple decision to take”.
“We gave the right of judgment on this matter to the British people, and they made their choice: they want to leave the EU,” the Prime Minister said. “The question every member must ask themselves as they go through the lobby tonight is: do they trust the people?”
Brexit opponents used the debate to warn of dangers ahead, with Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton Rupa Huq claiming that without the right safeguards attached to the Article 50 Bill “there may be a crock of something at the end of the rainbow, but it might not be gold”.
Fellow Labour MP Neil Coyle was reprimanded by the Speaker for recalling John Major’s attack on eurosceptics in his party by claiming the Conservatives had become “a whole government full of bastards, who are absolutely causing economic damage to my constituents and the whole country”.
Former chancellor George Osborne warned his successors in government to expect “bitter” negotiations ahead, and said Brexit Secretary David Davis should carry caffeine pills “because there will be many long nights ahead”.
Mr Osborne said the government was going into talks with the EU prioritising cutting migration over the economy, and warned that “Britain and Brexit are bracketed in the same group as other isolationist and nativist movements across the world”.
He warned: “Having spent the past couple of weeks in Berlin and in Paris talking to some French and German political leaders, it is clear to me that although they understand that Britain is a very important market for their businesses, their priority is to maintain the integrity of the remaining 27 members of the European Union.
“They are not interested in a long and complex hybrid agreement with the UK. Therefore, both sides are heading for a clean break from the EU for the UK.”
But he said he was voting for the bill, warning that “to vote against the majority verdict of the largest democratic exercise in British history would risk putting parliament against people, provoking a deep constitutional crisis in our country and alienating people who already feel alienated”.
Former first minister Alex Salmond claimed Brexit had resulted in parliament being “gripped by collective madness” that had led to “mad MP disease”.
Mr Salmond warned of “embarrassments to come” because of Mrs May’s pursuit of a trade deal from “her new ‘bestie’ in the White House”.
The legislation will be debated over three days next week, with amendments being raised by opposition parties.
Labour will demand that EU regulations on the environment and workers’ rights are protected, and that devolved administrations are consulted, while the Liberal Democrats will push for a second referendum on the final Brexit deal.
Opposition parties, including the SNP, are likely to agree on calls for MPs to be given a “meaningful” vote on the final deal, which would allow the Commons to vote to reject Mrs May’s negotiation and keep the UK in the EU.
The Prime Minister has insisted that if MPs vote against her deal, the UK will still leave the EU but without any formal trading relationship with the single market. An exit under World Trade Organisation rules would see exporters face punishing trade tariffs.
Following the vote, the SNP’s Westminster spokesman on Europe Stephen Gethins MP claimed it was a “day of infamy” for Scotland and the UK.
“This is a devastating act of sabotage on Scotland’s economy and our very social fabric. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the EU and it is easy to see why given the jobs, investment and industries that rely so heavily on our EU membership. Over 98 per cent of Scotland’s MPs opposed triggering Article 50.”