Britain Great Again. Article 50 vote majority what happens next?
The Prime Minister forced MPs to say whether they backed Brexit by asking them to vote in Parliament on whether they “respect” the will of the British people. The motion was carried on Wednesday evening with a majority of 372.
It came as the Supreme Court considers whether Theresa May can get on with Brexit negotiations without MPs’ approval.
But what does it all mean for the process of Britain’s departure from the EU?
What has the Government done?
Theresa May tabled an amendment which forced a non-binding Commons vote on whether Parliament agrees that the Government must trigger Article 50, which begins formal Brexit talks, by the end of March next year.
Downing Street has also committed to presenting MPs with a Brexit “plan” after criticism from backbenchers.
How does this affect the Supreme Court hearing on Article 50?
On Monday, eleven Supreme Court judges began hearing a Government appeal calling for Mrs May to be able to trigger Article 50 without the approval of Parliament.
In its case, the Government is arguing that Mrs May should be able to use the royal prerogative to trigger Brexit negotiations, which does not require a vote in Parliament.
However, Wednesday’s vote is not binding – meaning that it technically does not have any bearing whatsoever on the Supreme Court case.
What is the point of the court ruling if the Government has already held a Commons vote on Article 50?
Wednesday’s amendment only states that Parliament “should respect the wishes of the United Kingdom as expressed in the referendum on 23 June; and further calls on the Government to invoke Article 50 by 31 March 2017”.
Crucially, it does not trigger Article 50. It is only a commitment to do so by the end of March next year.
But it forced Europhile MPs to say whether or not they would back the triggering of Article 50.
The Supreme Court will rule on whether or not Mrs May must seek a binding vote in Parliament before she tells Brussels that she has formally triggered Article 50 and that negotiations have started.
If the Supreme Court rules against her, that vote would give MPs an opportunity to block Brexit by voting against the Government.
It means that Mrs May will need an Article 50 Act of Parliament, which will also have to be passed by the House of Lords.
A number of peers have already hinted that they are prepared to block Brexit, meaning the path of any Article 50 bill will not be smooth.
So what was the point of Wednesday’s Commons vote?
Although the vote does now make a difference legally, it is politically significant.
It forced MPs to state their position, making it very difficult for them to reverse this position and block Brexit if the Supreme Court rules against the Government.
By the end of proceedings on Wednesday, there was a list of MPs who are willing to say they do not respect the decision of the British people to vote Leave in June.
What do the parties think about Article 50?
Conservative MPs were whipped to vote in favour of the Government’s amendment which states that Article 50 will be triggered by March 2017.
This means every Tory was expected to back Theresa May’s plan to trigger Article 50 by the end of March next year.
The Government won the vote, which means Mrs May will be able to claim a victory and support for her timetable for the first time. MPs were free to vote in support of the Labour motion while also supporting the Prime Minister.
Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour will not block Article 50 but it is far from clear whether rebellious MPs followed his lead. The Labour leader warned he will make amendments to any bill seeking to trigger the clause in order to protect worker’s rights and social freedoms.
A few Labour MPs, including the former leadership contender Owen Smith, have indicated they might block it altogether if certain conditions are not met.
In the Commons the party supported the motion it tabled as well as the Government’s amendment setting out a timetable for Article 50, handing the Prime Minister a victory.
Tim Farron has said his party will block Theresa May triggering Article 50 unless she guarantees a second referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal.
The party backed Labour’s motion in the House but will oppose the Government’s amendment, which would have committed the party to supporting the timetable for leaving.
Liberal Democrats have been accused of attempting to thwart the will of the people by refusing to back Article 50 unless a second referendum is promised, but with just nine MPs the party does not pose much of a threat as long as the Prime Minister has her party on side.
Scottish National Party
The SNP tabled its own amendment to Labour’s motion, calling for a formal role for the devolved administrations.
It did not support the Government’s amendment on a timetable to trigger formal exit plans by March next year but will back calls for more information on Brexit as set out by the Labour party alongside its own new clause.
Stephen Gethins, the party’s Europe spokesman, said: “This amendment seeks to give representation and a say to the devolved administrations across the UK and ensure that Westminster understands that the SNP will do all it can to protect Scotland’s interests.”
Democratic Unionist Party
The DUP backs the Government on triggering Article 50 and both Nigel Dodds, the party’s deputy leader and Jeffrey Donaldson, the chief whip, added their names to the Government’s amendment to show their support.
This means the Prime Minister was able to count on the party’s MPs to back her timetable for triggering Brexit.
The party supported leaving the European Union in the referendum and has spoken out against those who are seeking to delay the exit by demanding a second referendum on the terms.
House of Lords
Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders in the House of Lords said they would not seek to block Article 50 but that they would look at ways to improve legislation when it comes before the House.
A source said no more than a couple of dozen peers were likely to block the formal exit process altogether, but there are fears that in laying down amendments the timetable for leaving the union could be delayed.
A number of peers, including Conservative Baroness Wheatcroft, have publicly said they will block Article 50 but it is unlikely that they would have a majority.
What happens next?
Thursday 8 December:Closing arguments in Supreme Court case which will decide whether Theresa May has the power to trigger Article 50 using a royal prerogative, rather than by an Act of Parliament
January: Supreme Court expected to deliver its ruling on the case it is currently hearing
March 31, 2017: The deadline Mrs May has set for invoking Article 50 by notifying the European Council of Britain’s intention to leave the EU
September 30, 2018: Date by which EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, wants to wrap up deal on Britain’s exit from the Union
March 31, 2019: Date by which Theresa May wants to wrap up negotiations over Brexit
May 2019? Britain formally exits the EU, following ratification of Brexit by all other member states