9 Feb 2017

UK House of Commons passes Brexit bill

1:17 pm on 9 February 2017

UK MPs have overwhelmingly agreed to let their government begin the country's departure from the European Union.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and Brexit Minister David Davis shout 'aye' during the House of Commons vote on the first stage of Brexit legislation.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and Brexit Minister David Davis shout 'aye' during the House of Commons vote on the first stage of Brexit legislation. Photo: AFP

The draft legislation was approved by 494 votes to 122, and now moves to the House of Lords.

Shadow business secretary Clive Lewis was one of 52 Labour MPs to defy party orders to back the bill and he resigned from the front bench.

Prime Minister Theresa May wants to trigger formal Brexit talks by the end of March.

She will do this by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, but requires Parliament's permission before doing so.

Mr Lewis, who earlier said he was undecided on whether to support the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, announced his resignation as MPs began voting for the final time.

He said he "cannot, in all good conscience, vote for something I believe will ultimately harm the city I have the honour to represent, love and call home".

Leader Jeremy Corbyn said he understood the difficulties the vote presented some of his MPs but said they had been ordered to back the Article 50 because the party would not "block Brexit".

Former Chancellor Ken Clarke was again the only Conservative to vote against the two-clause bill.

During the voting, Scottish National Party MPs were reprimanded by deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle after they started singing Ode to Joy, the European Union anthem.

Afterwards, Brexit Secretary David Davis hailed the "historic vote", adding: "It is now time for everyone, whichever way they voted in the referendum, to unite to make a success of the important task at hand for our country."

Peers will now consider the draft legislation.

Earlier the bill survived several attempts to change its wording and add extra conditions.

These included Labour MP Harriet Harman's bid to protect the residence rights of EU citizens in the UK, which was outvoted by 332 votes to 290, with three Conservative MPs rebelling.

A Liberal Democrat bid for a referendum on the terms of the UK leaving the EU was defeated by 340 votes to 33.

Afterwards, Mr Corbyn tweeted: "Real fight starts now. Over next two years Labour will use every opportunity to ensure Brexit protects jobs, living standards and the economy."

But Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused him of giving the Conservatives a "blank cheque".

She tweeted: "You didn't win a single concession but still voted for the bill. Pathetic."

The bill will be debated in the House of Lords after it returns from recess on 20 February.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron vowed the party's peers would seek to amend the bill in the Lords, including another attempt to ensure a referendum on the final Brexit deal.


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