May's Brexit plans clear first hurdle in Commons
Brexit moved a step closer after British MPs voted for the first time in favour of legislation to pave the way for Theresa May to trigger the formal process of leaving the EU.
The European Union (Notification Of Withdrawal) Bill will allow the British prime minister to invoke Article 50 of the EU treaties and was backed by 498 MPs to 114, a majority of 384, in the House of Commons, its first stage.
Mrs May will today publish a White Paper formally setting out the Government's plans for Brexit in response to the concerns of pro-European Tory MPs. However, there were further signs of division among the Conservatives as George Osborne, the former chancellor, accused Mrs May of putting Brexit ahead of the economy and warned he will join the "fight" over Britain's future outside the EU.
Yesterday's vote means the Government's Brexit legislation has cleared its first hurdle and Mrs May is on course to trigger the process by her March deadline. There had been 14-and-a-half hours of debate and bitter clashes in Parliament over two days as nearly 100 MPs expressed their views about Brexit. MPs finally voted in favour of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill by 498 votes to 114, with 47 Labour MPs, 50 SNP MPs and seven Liberal Democrats voting against.
It leaves Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, facing his third reshuffle in 18 months after 12 serving frontbenchers voted against it. Four members of his front bench team have already quit.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said: "I've just voted three times in the House of Commons for an absolutely momentous thing - to give our Prime Minister the right to trigger Article 50 and Britain to begin the path out of the EU. Don't forget we may be leaving the EU treaties but we are not leaving Europe."
However, Mr Osborne said that Mrs May has chosen "not to make the economy the priority in this negotiation".
He said that there will be "lively debates" to come on migration, state aid and agricultural policy. "I will be in those fights for years to come," he said. While he had argued "passionately" for Britain to stay in the European Union, Mr Osborne said, he had "lost the case" and "sacrificed" his position in Government.
Ahead of the debate, Mrs May accused those planing to vote against Article 50 of abusing the trust of the people.
During the debate Neil Coyle, a Labour MP who wants Britain to stay in the EU, was censured for calling the Government "b*******".
He also called Mr Corbyn's decision to impose a three-line whip on the vote a "disgrace".