Britain’s MPs vote in favour of starting Brexit

House of Commons politicians pass legislation on triggering article 50 by 498 to 114

Britain's MPs have voted to authorise British prime minister Theresa May to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on withdrawing from the EU by 498 votes to 114, a majority of 384.

Almost 50 Labour MPs defied a party whip to oppose the bill, joining the Scottish National Party (SNP), the SDLP, most Liberal Democrats and former Conservative chancellor Ken Clarke.

The British government will publish a white paper on its Brexit strategy on Thursday and the House of Commons will consider dozens of amendments to the legislation next week before it goes to the House of Lords, with full parliamentary approval expected in early March.

This would allow the prime minister to invoke article 50 and start formal withdrawal negotiations at an EU summit in Brussels on March 9th.


The UK supreme court ruled last week that Ms May cannot start formal Brexit negotiations without parliamentary approval, but the legislation has proved more troublesome for Labour than for the government.

Four MPs have resigned from the shadow cabinet rather than accept Jeremy Corbyn’s three-line whip ordering them to vote in favour of triggering article 50.

One of those who resigned, London MP Tulip Siddiq, said she could not vote for the bill because that would not be in the interests of her constituents.

“The reason why I’m taking the stand I’m taking is because, in Hampstead and Kilburn, we do not wince when we hear people speak in a different language on public transport.

“We do not blame the very real pressures on our health system, on our criminal justice and on our housing by scapegoating others, just because they do not look like us and because they do not sound like us,” she said.

Former chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne, whom Ms May sacked when she took office last year, said he was voting for the bill because he did not wish to put parliament against the people.

However, he said the government had chosen not to prioritise the economy as it withdrew from the EU, making a hard Brexit inevitable.

He said: “The EU is not prioritising the economy either in these negotiations.

“Having spent the last couple of weeks in Berlin and in Paris talking to some of the French and German political leaders, it is absolutely clear that while they understand that Britain is a very important market for their businesses, their priority is to maintain the integrity of the remaining 27 members of the EU.

“They are not interested in a long and complex, hybrid agreement with the UK.”


Earlier, Britain’s former ambassador to the EU, Ivan Rogers, told MPs on the Brexit committee that withdrawal negotiations with the EU were likely to descent into “name-calling” and “fist-fighting”.

He said that the UK’s EU partners did not believe that Theresa May would walk away from the talks without a deal because the economic cost would be too great.

“The view of many will be that the implications for the UK of walking away without any deal on the economic side and without any preferential arrangement and walking into a World Trade Organisation-only world are - from their perspective, which may be a misreading of us - so unpalatable that we won’t do it,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times