May gets green light to formally begin Brexit negotiations
Theresa May last night secured a historic Brexit victory as her plan to take Britain out of the European Union received overwhelming backing from MPs.
MPs voted by more than four to one in favour of triggering Article 50 in a vote the Government had initially attempted to avoid, until compelled by the Supreme Court. The legislation will now pass to the House of Lords without a single amendment, which ministers said would make it "almost impossible" for pro-European peers to block Brexit.
David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, said: "We've seen a historic vote tonight - a big majority for getting on with negotiating our exit from the EU and a strong, new partnership with its member states.
"It has been a serious debate, a healthy debate, with contributions from MPs representing all parts of the UK, and I respect the strong views on all sides.
"The decision on EU membership has been made by the people we serve. It is now time for everyone, whichever way they voted in the referendum, to unite to make a success of the important task at hand for our country."
Sir Bill Cash, chairman of the European Union Scrutiny committee, said: "This is a historic moment. Britain is now leaving the European Union after four decades."
Dominic Raab, a former minister, added the result sent out a "clear message to the Lords".
Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader, said: "I never thought I'd see the day where the House of Commons overwhelmingly voted for Britain to leave the European Union."
The Government now needs the approval of the Lords, where the Conservatives do not have a majority.
There has been suggestion that an alliance of pro-European Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat peers are plotting to join forces in a bid to frustrate Brexit.
But ministers said that the 372-strong Commons majority sent a "clear message" to the Lords and warned peers that it would provoke a "constitutional crisis" if they tried to block Brexit.
A Government source said: "It would signal a massive blow and could trigger a lot of debate about the end of the Lords if they try and block. The MPs who were elected and sent by the people have voted emphatically in favour of Brexit."
Mrs May successfully saw off a series of rebellions by Conservative MPs which had threatened to impede the progress of the legislation.
Conservative peers have been banned from leaving the country at the end of the month as a part of an attempt to prevent Brexit stalling in the Lords.
While the Government is confident the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill will pass its second reading, there are concerns that hostile amendments could be passed.
High-profile Tory peers such as Baroness Brady, Lord Lloyd-Webber and Lord Fellowes are likely to be called on to cast their ballots. One Westminster insider said the Government whips had ordered "everyone who is not dead, lame or senile" to come to the Lords to vote on the Bill in sittings between February 20 and March 7.
Two former Tory chancellors warned that peers would be threatening their own existence if they frustrated the Government's attempt to start talks about Britain's exit from the EU.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick said: "I think it would be very difficult for the public to understand how an unelected house could thwart the will of the electorate."
Lord Lawson of Blaby added: "The constitutional position is clear and they should not go against it."