Last month, the British Supreme Court dealt Prime Minister Theresa May a small setback in the U.K.’s relentless march toward Brexit, ruling that she would need to seek Parliament’s approval before triggering a formal divorce from the European Union.
On Wednesday, Parliament set that march back on course.
By an overwhelming majority, lawmakers in the House of Commons voted to give May the power to trigger Article 50, the exit clause in the EU’s set of laws. It paves the way for May to enact the departure from the U.K. the British voted for in last June’s national referendum.
It is not the last vote that the bill will be subjected to, but it is arguably the most important. The unelected upper chamber of British Parliament, the House of Lords, still has to weigh in on the decision. But it is expected that the Lords will decline to overrule their elected colleagues, especially in the face of such a clear majority.
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who had campaigned to stay in the EU before the referendum, nevertheless backed the bill, saying he would respect the voters’ decision. Though not everyone in his party followed his lead, “Labour MPs voted more than three to one in favour of triggering article 50,” Corbyn said in his statement.
But he pivoted his focus forward, hoping to soften the Brexit to come with several amendments:
“Labour’s amendments are the real agenda. The challenge is for MPs of all parties to ensure the best deal for Britain, and that doesn’t mean giving Theresa May a free hand to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven.”
The lopsided final tally — 498 MPs in favor, to 114 MPs voting no — belies a heated, and sometimes even acrimonious, two days of debate on the floor. The Scottish National Party, which had campaigned vigorously against the bill, took the results especially hard.
One MP from the SNP even hinted at pursuing Scottish independence following the vote. “The fools don’t realise that’s two unions they’ve broken tonight,” Joanna Cherry tweeted Wednesday.
The BBC reports one MP was even heard to shout “suicide” when the results were read.
On the other hand, conservatives like Boris Johnson, the British foreign minister and an ardent Brexiter, applauded Wednesday’s vote as “historic.” “History has been made,” Johnson tweeted.
May has set a deadline of March 31 to open exit talks with the European Union.
But don’t expect it to be a clean, quick divorce: The negotiations are expected to last two years, with the U.K.’s break not expected until 2019.
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