Article 50 will be invoked on March 9 at a summit of European leaders — but only if the Bill to invoke it can be steered through both Houses of Parliament without incident.
The heads of all 28 European Union (EU) member states will be meeting in Malta for a two-day European Council Summit on March 9-10, giving Mrs. May an opportunity to invoke Article 50 and formally trigger the Brexit process.
Consequently, the government has now told the House of Lords that it wants the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which hands permission to the Prime Minister to invoke Article 50, approved on March 7, The Times has reported.
The short timetable is precarious, however – if the Lords decide to pass amendments to the Bill it would set off a phase of parliamentary ‘ping pong’, with the Bill being passed back to the Commons for further debate.
The government intends to have the Bill passed by the Commons on February 9, when parliament goes on recess, and ready to be handed to the Lords on February 20 when parliament returns.
That plan, too, may be upended, if opposition parties are able to obfuscate sufficiently to delay or even overturn the Bill.
A Commons vote on the Bill is expected to take place on Wednesday night, following two days of debate. But Conservative Members of Parliament have been instructed to remain within Parliament until midnight on Tuesday night as government whips are concerned that an opposition party may move to a sudden vote designed to block the entire Bill or otherwise wreck the Bill.
A source told The Sun: “They fear there will be [a] clever procedural way of coming at them and are worried they will get tripped up.”
More than 100 MPs are rumoured to be planning to vote against the Bill, the Scottish National Party’s 54 MPs, the eight Liberal Democrat members, and as many as 60 from the Labour Party.
On Monday, the Prime Minister blasted those considering voting against, saying: “Parliament voted six to one to give the people the decision as to whether we should stay in the European Union, they have spoken in that vote.
“I hope when people look at the Article 50 bill they will recognise that it is a very simple decision – do they support the will of the British people or not.”
May had been determined not to reveal the exact date she intended to trigger Brexit, saying only that it would happen before the end of March. But with March 25 marking the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome – the founding charter of what became the EU – ministers are said to be wary of invoking Article 50 towards the end of the month.