The House of Commons is set for a showdown this evening, as the government has forced a vote indicating that Parliament supports the invoking of Article 50 by the end of March.
The vote effectively forces the hands of Europhiles who have hinted they could rebel against invoking Article 50, against the wishes of the British people.
The vote has come about because Labour tabled a motion to the Commons, calling on the prime minister, Theresa May, to publish the government’s Brexit plans before negotiations formally get underway.
As many as 40 Europhile Conservative MPs were set to support the Labour motion, including former employment minister Anna Soubry who said the motion “transcended party politics”.
May responded by adding an amendment to the motion, indicating that the “House will respect the wishes of the UK” and “invoke Article 50” by the end of March 2017.
The amendment is non-binding, and, crucially, does not actually invoke Article 50, so will have no bearing on the Supreme Court case currently being fought over whether the government has to put the decision to invoke Article 50 to a vote in Parliament.
However, it is politically expedient as it forces MPs to reveal their position on Article 50. By the end of the day, there will be a list of MPs prepared to say they will not honour the results of June’s referendum.
The Liberal Democrats have already confirmed that their eight MPs will be voting against the amendment.
Their leader Tim Farron said: “We cannot support a parliamentary stitch up that would deny the people a vote on the final deal.
“An amended motion would fail to include any meaningful commitment from the Conservative Brexit government to produce the equivalent of a White or Green Paper setting out its position on such fundamental questions as to whether it wants Britain to remain in the Single Market.”
The full wording of Labour’s motion in the Commons reads:
“That this House recognises that leaving the EU is the defining issue facing the UK; believes that there should be a full and transparent debate on the Government’s plan for leaving the EU; and calls on the Prime Minister to ensure that this House is able properly to scrutinise that plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked; and believes that the process should should be undertaken in such a way that respects the decision of the people when they voted to leave the EU on 23 June and does not undermine the negotiating position of the Government as negotiations are entered into which will take place after Article 50 has been triggered.”
To which the government added the following amendment:
“To end, add:
“consistently with the principles agreed unanimously by this House on 12 October; expects that this House will respect the wishes of the UK as expressed in the referendum on 23 June; and further calls on the Government to invoke Article 50 by 31 March 2017.”