LONDON (AFP) – Prime Minister Theresa May’s government was to publish its Brexit strategy Thursday after winning a first parliamentary vote on a bill that would empower her to start pulling Britain out of the EU.
The so-called “white paper” will outline Britain’s negotiating aims as May prepares to officially begin the process of divorce from the European Union following last year’s historic referendum vote.
In an emotional parliamentary session, MPs on Wednesday approved the first stage of a bill for triggering Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which would fire the starting gun on two years of exit negotiations.
Many pro-EU MPs voiced their anguish at voting against their own deeply-held beliefs to pass the bill, which is expected to receive final approval by the House of Lords next month.
One MP was heard shouting “Suicide!” as the result of the vote was announced in the chamber.
Pro-Brexit newspapers lauded the result, though others Thursday warned of growing discontent in May’s centre-right Conservative Party.
“We have lift-off!” said the Daily Mail, hailing a “momentous day for Britain” after the “crushing majority” vote to start Brexit on its front page.
It featured an image of wartime leader Winston Churchill, and said the 114 lawmakers who voted against the bill had betrayed “the will of the people”.
But The Times said May was facing a revolt from backbench Conservatives unless she guarantees the right of more than three million EU citizens living in Britain to stay.
The premier wants the reciprocal rights of Britons in Europe guaranteed.
On January 17, May outlined a 12-point exit strategy, saying Britain would pull out of the single market in order to control immigration from the EU, which ran at 284,000 in the year to June 2016.
She revealed Britain would look to strike a new customs agreement with Brussels, enabling it to forge its own trade deals with the rest of the world.
And she warned Britain would feel free to set competitive tax rates if it cannot strike a free trade deal with the EU.
– ‘Reckless Brexit’ –
On Wednesday, MPs voted by a margin of 498 to 114 in the first Brexit-related vote in parliament’s lower House of Commons.
Scottish nationalists and rebels from the main opposition Labour Party made up the bulk of the 114.
It came after more than 17 hours of debate, with a second and final vote in the lower house set for next week.
The government had sought to exclude parliament, insisting it had the power to trigger Article 50 on its own, but Britain’s Supreme Court last week ruled it must consult lawmakers.
May is under intense pressure to push the bill through quickly, having pledged to trigger Article 50 by the end of March.
Dozens of amendments are scheduled for debate over three days in the House of Commons which begins on Monday.
The bill will then move to the upper House of Lords for debate from February 20, with the government hoping for their approval by March 7.
But the bill could be delayed in the Lords, where the Conservatives do not have a majority — and where the unelected peers have no fear of a voter backlash.
Most MPs campaigned to stay in the EU ahead of last June’s referendum, but many have decided to accept the result, however reluctantly.
The Guardian newspaper said it was a “scandal” that Remain-backing Conservative MPs voted for the bill, bar former finance minister Ken Clarke.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn ordered his MPs not block the bill, but 47 rebelled, including leading members of the party who quit his shadow cabinet team in order to vote against the bill.
“We will not oppose Article 50 going through,” said Labour finance spokesman John McDonnell.
“The real battle comes after Article 50 when the government then has to start coming back with the details of those negotiations.
“We’ll be making sure we work with other political parties to prevent Theresa May’s reckless Brexit.”