Wed, 24 July 2024

The British parliament’s ‘long and windy road’ towards Brexit: the story so far

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The UK government has passed its first hurdle on the way to triggering Article 50 – the notification of the UK’s intention to leave the EU – which may happen in the first half of March. But the splits and tensions within both the main parties in parliament – Conservatives and Labour — point to more political battles ahead as the prospect of actual negotiations approaches. This account of the story so far was published on the AEJ UK Section’s website .

The UK government has passed its first vote on Brexit in the House of Commons after two days of debate. On 1 February MPs voted 498 to 114 to allow further examination of the government’s proposed law authorizing exit from the EU. MPs will have only 3 days beginning 6 February for detailed examination and amendments before a second vote on the bill on Wednesday February 8, a deadline set by the government. Its bill is very short – 137 words – and needs approval in both the elected House of Commons and the appointed House of Lords to become law. On 20 February the House of Lords, whose members are overwhelmingly against Brexit but wary of challenging the authority of the Commons, will start debating the bill over several days. Any amendments that are passed in the Lords are thought likely to be removed or diluted later by the Commons, where Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives have a small working majority of 16 in the 650-seat Chamber. The government   is expected to win the final Parliamentary vote. Its aim is to obtain the ‘royal assent’ for the bill from the Queen in time to formally notify the EU of the UK’s intention to leave at the regular European Council meeting scheduled for 9-10 March.

The main opposition Labour party is split on the Brexit issue – as it is on   a number of others. It is officially supporting the triggering of Article 50 to start the exit process, hoping to avoid further alienating the significant minority (an estimated 37%) of its supporters who voted to leave the EU in last year’s referendum. 47 of 229 Labour MPs defied party guidance in the first vote and voted against proceeding with the Article 50 bill. The Scottish National Party is unified in opposition to Brexit and the Liberal Democratic Party’s official policy is to oppose it. ( See party standings )
Prime Minister May was forced to allow Parliament to vote by the UK Supreme Court . It upheld the supremacy of Parliament in a ruling on January 24 , rejecting claims by May’s Conservative government that it could use executive powers and avoid consulting Parliament. In a historically rare occurrence, all 11 justices heard the landmark case and voted 8-3 against the government – full details are here from the Supreme Court and the Telegraph newspaper . Multiple other media reports are also available online such as the Independent , the Guardian , the Express , as well as others.
Besides having its initial determination not to introduce legislation on triggering Brexit overturned, the Conservative government was also forced to reverse its refusal to provide details on its Brexit plans after a potential revolt by some of its own MPs. Those plans were finally outlined in a white paper presented to Parliament on Feb. 2.
See here to monitor progress of the government bill, and for ongoing and up-to-date reporting see the Independent , the Guardian and other UK media.
Standings in the lower House of Commons are :
Conservatives: 329 MPs
Labour: 229
Scottish National Party: 54
Liberal Democrats 9
MPs representing Northern Ireland, Wales, the Greens, and others make up the balance.
UKIP – the UK Independence Party considered to have provoked the referendum and the whole exit process – has only one MP, an individual who was first elected to parliament as a Conservative and defected to UKIP before the 2015 election.
For a breakdown of the referendum vote in different regions, constuencies and demographics please see these links:


The Telegraph breakdown   of the preliminary Brexit vote in Parliament

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