After they grudgingly backed her plan to trigger Brexit negotiations by the end of March in its first test in Parliament, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May faces a battle with pro-European lawmakers in her Conservative Party.
To allow May to start divorce talks with the European Union, the House of Commons on Wednesday approved by 498 votes to 114. Lawmakers warned their backing shouldn’t be mistaken for unconditional support to negotiate Brexit freely as there are more parliamentary hurdles ahead.
A plan with a period of transitional arrangement to help businesses adjust, and including issues like overhauling membership of the customs union, controlling migration, and leaving the EU single market, will be published in a written outline about the Brexit plans by the government which will lay out details of the clean break with the EU that the premier wants.
“The battle’s only just started,” said former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke, the one Conservative who said he’d oppose the bill. “We’ve been in a very unreal, silly world since the rather startling result of the referendum. We’re on a voyage of discovery now with a sketchy outline of the negotiating position.”
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne told lawmakers before the vote in London that political friends and the wider country will be “completely divided’’ as the Parliament will have to decide on a series of issues under May’s plan. He said that issues like state support for farms and businesses, free trade policies, and controversies over setting migration limits, will have to be grappled with by her government.
“I will be in those fights in the couple of years ahead,” Osborne, who campaigned to stay in the EU, told lawmakers.
It is almost guaranteed to pass its final stages sometime in March as the main opposition Labour Party is backing May’s law. Still, plenty of clues that the premier faces trouble ahead were contained in the Commons debate leading up to the vote.
“The government has chosen, and I respect this decision, not to make the economy the priority in this negotiation,’’ Osborne said, pointing to May’s “red line’ of controlling immigration. “The European Union is not prioritizing the economy either in these negotiations. Both sides at the moment are heading for a clean break.’’
Hard Brexit is an arrangement that would see complete control of immigration, laws and budget even if it means giving up membership of the single market and customs union and Osborne and other senior Conservatives expressed reservations about May’s trajectory toward a hard Brexit.
As a reason to re-write May’s bill when it enters the next stage of detailed parliamentary scrutiny next week, they will seek to use the so-called white paper.
The unelected upper house will eventually get the bill. The anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats have more than 100 lawmakers in the 805-member Lords, and the government has no majority in it.
Former Labour minister Peter Hain, now a member of the House of Lords, tweeted that “I and others will vote against bill” when it goes to the upper chamber later this month “to block May’s right-wing Brexit nightmare for Britain.”
(Adapted from Bloomberg)
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