The government’s wish to trigger Article 50 by the end of March has now received the consent of the House of Commons. The bill went through with 498 voting in favour of the Brexit bill, with 114 MPs against. Overall 47 Labour MPs rebelled against Jeremy Corbyn’s three line whip. This was alongside 50 SNP MPs, 7 Lib Dems, 2 Plaid Cymru, 3, SDLP 3 independents, all 3 independents, the sole Green MP, and the Conservative ex-Chancellor Ken Clarke. The bill will now be sent to the House of Lords for its approval.
For Labour the Brexit bill has once again caused internal problems as seen in the resignation of the Shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis. This has prompted Corbyn into reshuffling his Shadow Cabinet for a fifth time since becoming leader in 2015. This includes Rebecca Long-Bailey (MP for Salford) becoming Shadow Business Secretary. Other appointments that have been proposed are, Sue Hayman (MP for Workington) to Shadow Environment Secretary, Christian Rees (MP for Neath) to Shadow Welsh Secretary, and Peter Dowd (MP for Bootle) as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The vote clearly demonstrates just how divided the Labour Party currently is over Brexit. Yet Diane Abbot campaigned to remain voted with Corbyn. She highlighted that the Labour Party feared losing support in traditional Labour heartlands if they blocked the Brexit bill, as they had in the Scottish referendum in 2014.
The Conservative government however, have almost completed the first domestic problem regarding Brexit with the passing of the bill. Moreover, with only one Conservative rebelling– the traditional pro-European Ken Clarke – the vote suggests that the Conservatives are fully behind the government’s position on starting the process to leave the European Union.
The matter will now move to the House of Lords with the Labour Party already proposing 8 amendments that will give Parliament a bigger role in scrutinising Brexit as the matter proceeds. Angela Smith Leader of the Labour Party in the House of Lords an ardent pro-European who also campaigned to remain, stated that she hopes to ensure that Parliament gets a meaningful vote on the final deal that is negotiated. This is despite the Prime Minister threatening to reduce the powers of the House of Lords. While Brexit Secretary David Davis has asked peers to ‘do their patriotic duty’. Pro-European Lords from Labour and the Conservative Party might be inclined to offer amendments that run against government policy. While the Lib Dems have vowed to continue the fight in the House of Lords.
Overall it is unlikely now that the House of Lords will be able to prevent the Triggering of Article 50. However, they can play an important role when they reconvene on 20th February. By offering amendments they can allow Parliament as a whole to have a larger say in final stage of negotiations. Negotiations themselves will also be lengthy and it is difficult to foresee if they will conclude within the two year window, unless the Conservative government want a hard and fast Brexit.