By Harry Busz
Since the historic referendum vote on the 23rd of June, dispute surrounding the mammoth task of withdrawing the United Kingdom from the European Union has dominated national headlines and political debate.
Following the Supreme Court’s verdict earlier this year, the conservative government has accepted that Article 50, the bill that will trigger the beginning of the two-year period in which the UK will formally leave the EU, must consult and pass through parliament and not solely be implemented by Theresa May through the royal prerogative.
As a consequence, last week MPs had their opportunity to vote on a Brexit bill, formally named as the ‘European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill’ which will transfer power to Theresa May to start the Brexit process.
Since its conception the Bill has caused much controversy in the Commons with many heavily criticizing it for being too vague, and so offering the Prime Minister too much power over negotiations with the EU allowing her to implement a so called ‘hard Brexit’.
The vote has placed political parties in a difficult position, many pro-European MPs are being asked to respect the referendum result, and not hamper the Brexit process.
This has been no more visible than with swathes of Labour MPs whose leader Jeremy Corbyn has heavily pressured his party to back the bill, regardless of their personal beliefs or that of their constituents.
After two days of debate, the chamber voted by a large majority of 384 votes to back the government’s plans with a mere fifth of Labour MPs defying their leadership, and voting against.
In total 47 Labour MPs, rebelled feeling they would not be doing justice to their constituents often in London’s urban areas and younger generations if they back the bill, which was echoed in whispers of ‘suicide’ by one MP as the result was read out.
The three-line whip enacted by Corbyn led to resignations from his own front bench, and serves to demonstrate the divisions not only between the party’s officials, but also their constituents surrounding the issue.
The SNP also opposed the bill, amid concerns that none of the counting areas in Scotland backed Leave in the referendum, that the multiple nations of the UK were not being involved enough in the debate and fears that being withdrawn from the single market would harm the economy.
Alongside them were the Liberal Democrats whose pro-European rhetoric since the referendum led them to success in the Richmond by-election, with leader Tim Farron stating that ‘What started with democracy must not end up with a Government stitch-up’.
Although the Bill has passed the so called ‘first hurdle’, the Commons and the Lords still have the ability to scrutinise and attempt to amend the Bill in the coming weeks.
However early signs are showing that May and the Commons at large are unwilling to manipulate the bill. Multiple amendments, for example, giving more consultation to devolved administrations and May giving regular updates on negotiations have so far failed to gain success in the Commons at the committee stage.
Last Wednesday, the bill got its Commons third reading and was passed by a majority of 372. It will now be passed on to the House of Lords.