LONDON — Theresa May is poised to trigger Britain’s formal departure from the European Union as early as this week if both houses of parliament vote to pass the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.
Once passed, the bill will give the prime minister the authority to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty — the mechanism for taking a country out of the 28-nation bloc.
MPs in the Commons are expected to reject the amendments to the bill proposed by the Lords last week and vote for the bill to be passed without alteration.
If this happens, then the bill will go back to the Lords, where peers will decide whether to either accept the MPs’ verdict or stick to their guns and send the bill back to the Commons in hope of the amendments being accepted.
But what are the two amendments at the heart of this parliamentary tug of war?
Guaranteed rights for EU citizens in the UK
Last week Lords voted to back an amendment tabled by Labour peers to include a provision to guarantee the rights of EU and EEA citizens currently in the UK to remain here after Brexit.
If passed into law, it would require May’s government to introduce proposals for securing the rights of these people within three months of triggering Article 50.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will lead an “emergency demonstration” alongside migrant rights’ organisations tonight, to call on the government to accept their amendment guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals in the UK.
Those in favour of the amendment argue that Britain has a moral obligation to protect the millions of EU/EEA citizens and their families and not use them as “bargaining chips” in exit talks with EU leaders. Opponents have shot down talk of “bargaining chips” and insisted that triggering Brexit as soon as possible is the best way to provide clarity and reassurance to EU/EEA families currently in Britain.
A meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal
The Lords also voted last week by 366 to 268 to amend the bill so that parliament must get a meaningful vote before May signs off any final exit deal with Brussels
May had previously vowed to give MPs and peers a final vote, but with the fairly large caveat that she would pull Britain out of the EU even if parliament rejected the terms of the exit deal.
This amendment seeks to give parliament the power to block Brexit if it is unhappy with the terms of the divorce.
MPs across the House are keen to be given this power to prevent May from delivering a “hard Brexit” that would see Britain drop out of single market and default to World Trade Organisation (WTO) trading rules, which various business leaders have warned would lead to a “Pandora’s Box” of disastrous economic consequences.
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