LONDON — Dozens of MPs are attempting to kill off Brexit as they begin the debate on whether to pass a bill triggering Britain’s exit from the EU.
MPs will on Tuesday afternoon begin a two-day long debate continuing until midnight on Wednesday when MPs will vote on whether to trigger Article 50 — the two-year process by which Britain can leave the EU.
The government hopes to rush through the bill by March 7, weeks before its self-imposed deadline of the end of March.
However. MPs from all parties have tabled a series of amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill in an attempt to shape prime minister Theresa May’s negotiating strategy.
Amendments to the bill include calls for May to secure single market access and protections for workers’ rights and the environment.
Dozens of MPs have also signed amendments seeking to throw out the bill altogether. Nineteen Labour MPs have submitted a so-called ‘wrecking amendment’ which declines to give a second reading to bill because of what they believe are May’s failures to secure access to the single market and a vote on Britain’s exit from it.
MPs from across the House have also expressed frustration at the short amount of time tabled for debate on the issue. Just five days have been set aside for the Bill in the Commons, whereas debates on ascension to previous European treaties have lasted weeks.
There is also considerable anger about the government’s failure to publish its negotiation aims prior to the start of debate. May promised last week to publish a white paper setting out her Brexit strategy “in due course”. However, a Downing Street spokesperson would only say on Monday that the paper would be published “as soon as possible” and refused repeated requests to state whether or not it would be published prior to the debate beginning on Tuesday.
The vote will be a test of Corbyn’s authority
Despite this, the second reading of the bill is likely to be passed with a big majority on Wednesday. While the SNP, Greens and Liberal Democrats are set to vote against the bill, Jeremy Corbyn has imposed a three-line-whip ordering his MPs to vote in favour of it. The vote will be a big test of his authority however, with dozens of MPs likely to defy the whip, including two of those in charge of enforcing it. Business Insider revealed last week that one of Corbyn’s own whips, Thangam Debbonaire, is set to defy her own whip and vote against triggering Article 50. Debbonaire told BI that she was minded to vote against and then “deal with the consequences as they happen.” Her fellow whip Jeff Smith is also set to defy it.
Many more Labour MPs may ultimately end up voting against the bill. Shadow Business Secretary and key Corbyn ally Clive Lewis said on Friday that while he would vote to progress the bill this week he would vote against the final reading of the bill if Labour fails to secure its amendments.
Corbyn told ITV on Sunday that all members of his shadow frontbench would be expected to resign if they defy the whip. However, BI understands that the door will be left open for them to return after the bill has been passed. Corbyn’s team see the vote as a defining moment for Labour which is currently facing two difficult by-elections in Stoke and Copeland which both vote overwhelmingly in favour to leave the European Union. The Labour leader and his advisers have been shown internal polling which suggests the issue is haemorrhaging the party votes in its heartlands.
There is so far little sign of a rebellion on the Conservative benches against the bill. So far only veteran Europhile Ken Clarke has declared that he will oppose his party whip and vote against. The former chancellor told the BBC that he would “look ridiculous” if he were to vote in favour of triggering Britain’s exit from the EU after spending a lifetime arguing against such an outcome.
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