UK law­mak­ers back bill to trig­ger EU exit talks

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JILL LAW­LESS

Bri­tain moved closer to leav­ing the Euro­pean Union Wed­nes­day as law­mak­ers backed a bill au­tho­riz­ing divorce pro­ceed­ings and kept alive the gov­ern­ment’s plan to trig­ger Brexit talks within weeks.

The House of Com­mons de­ci­sively backed the bill by 498 votes to 114, send­ing it on for com­mit­tee scru­tiny. The re­sult was a vic­tory for the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment, which had fought in court to avert the vote out of fear Par­lia­ment would im­pede its Brexit plans.

Law­mak­ers also de­feated a “wreck­ing amend­ment” pro­posed by the Scot­tish Na­tional Party that sought to de­lay Bri­tain’s exit talks with the EU be­cause the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment has not dis­closed de­tailed plans for its ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Dur­ing two days of de­bate in the House of Com­mons, many leg­is­la­tors — Eu­roskep­tic and Europhile alike — said they would back the bill out of re­spect for vot­ers’ June 23 de­ci­sion to leave the EU.

But op­po­si­tion par­ties will try to insert more amend­ments dur­ing the next stages of the par­lia­men­tary process. They are seek­ing to pre­vent an econ­omy-shock­ing “hard Brexit,” in which Bri­tain loses full ac­cess to the EU’s sin­gle mar­ket and faces re­stric­tions or tar­iffs on trade.

Af­ter com­mit­tee con­sid­er­a­tion, the bill is due to re­turn to the House of Com­mons for a fi­nal vote next week be­fore mov­ing on to Par­lia­ment’s up­per cham­ber, the House of Lords.

The gov­ern­ment was forced to in­tro­duce the leg­is­la­tion af­ter a Supreme Court rul­ing last week tor­pe­doed Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s ef­fort to start the process of leav­ing the 28-na­tion bloc with­out a par­lia­men­tary vote.

The gov­ern­ment wants to have the bill ap­proved by early March so it can meet a self­im­posed March 31 dead­line for trig­ger­ing the EU divorce talks.

Scores of law­mak­ers spoke dur­ing more than 16 hours of de­bate over two days. Those who backed the win­ning “leave” side in the ref­er­en­dum said they would vote proudly to start the exit process.

Oth­ers, who voted to re­main in the EU, said they would re­spect the will of the peo­ple de­spite their own reser­va­tions.

For­mer Trea­sury chief Ge­orge Os­borne, a pro-EU Con­ser­va­tive, said “to vote against the ma­jor­ity verdict of the largest demo­cratic ex­er­cise in Bri­tish his­tory” would set Par­lia­ment against the peo­ple and “pro­voke a deep con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis in our coun­try.”

Still oth­ers said they would op­pose the start of divorce ne­go­ti­a­tions, ac­cus­ing the gov­ern­ment of rush­ing Bri­tain to­ward the EU exit door with lit­tle idea of what is on the other side.

The gov­ern­ment says it will pub­lish a White Pa­per outlining its strat­egy for with­drawal on Thurs­day, but it’s un­clear how many new de­tails it will con­tain.

“Vot­ing for de­par­ture is not the same as vot­ing for a desti­na­tion,” said Lib­eral Demo­crat leader Tim Far­ron, who called on the gov­ern­ment to guar­an­tee a se­cond ref­er­en­dum to ap­prove a fi­nal deal with the bloc.

Scot­tish Na­tional Party law­maker An­gus MacNeil said that in act­ing to trig­ger Brexit, “the House of Com­mons has taken leave of its senses.”

“It’s cross­ing its fin­gers and hop­ing for the best,” he said.

The U.K.’s largest op­po­si­tion party, Labour, told its law­mak­ers to back the bill but says it will try to amend it later to pre­vent an econ­omy-shock­ing “hard Brexit,” in which Bri­tain loses full ac­cess to the EU’s sin­gle mar­ket and faces re­stric­tions or tar­iffs on trade — but at a later stage.

How­ever, 47 of the 229 Labour law­mak­ers de­fied party leader Jeremy Cor­byn and voted against the bill.

Mean­while, Bri­tain’s for­mer top diplo­mat to the EU warned Wed­nes­day that dis­en­tan­gling the U.K. from the bloc will be a long and ar­du­ous process.

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