British Parliament Votes to Allow May to Invoke Article 50, Start Brexecution

By Shannon Togawa Mercer
Wednesday, February 1, 2017, 10:56 PM

In an overwhelming show of “Brexit” support, the British House of Commons has voted to support a bill that grants Prime Minister Theresa May the power to begin Brexit negotiations. 498 Members of Parliament (MPs) voted in favor of the European Union Bill, a bill allowing the government to notify the European Union of the U.K.’s intention to withdraw from the EU under the requirements of Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union. The bill will become law only after revision and approval at the House of Commons committee level and a decision by the House of Lords. May has stated that she will release a long-awaited white paper detailing the government’s Brexit negotiation plan tomorrow, and the House of Commons will hold a final vote next Wednesday.

Today’s vote is the result of last weeks’ United Kingdom Supreme Court decision, analyzed in detail by Curtis Bradley and Laurence Helfer, holding that the Government may not notify the European Union of withdrawal without parliamentary approval. The Government, which argued that it had the prerogative power to notify the European Union of withdrawal without consulting parliament, moved quickly to draft a simple 137-word bill to put before the House of Commons.

The three-page bill, officially titled The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, does little more than confer the power to notify the European Union of Brexit “despite any provision made by or under the European Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment” to the Prime Minister.

Despite the majority vote today, there is still meaningful opposition. Among the dissenting voices were 114 MPs, the Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrat leadership, and Rachel Maskell and Dawn Butler, members of the shadow cabinet who resigned earlier today as an expression of their defiance of the bill. Further heated debate is anticipated, although much of the pro-Brexit momentum in the House of Commons has been driven by a desire to effectuate the will of the people as manifested in June’s referendum.

Prime Minister May has indicated that Article 50 of the TEU will be invoked by March 31 of this year, thus triggering the two-year shot-clock for negotiation finalization. Given today’s vote, there is a high likelihood that May’s government will meet that deadline.

You can find official U.K. Parliament coverage of the debate and other committee reports here.