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26 January 2017

The Article 50 Brexit bill is here – this is what is inside

The Prime Minister needs Parliament to give her the power to trigger Article 50. Fast. 

By Julia Rampen

After fighting and losing all the way to the Supreme Court, the government has conceded that Parliament must have a say in triggering Article 50, which starts the process of Brexit.

For the government’s parliamentary opponents, the next question is whether they can amend the bill substantially or even block it by voting against it.

Those MPs from adamantly pro-EU parties, like the Lib Dems and the SNP, have the easiest job. They have little to lose by opposing it.

But Labour has a harder choice. Its MPs can try and work constructively with the government – as the Labour leadership wants – or join the other opposition parties and vote against it. 

While some Labour frontbenchers, such as Clive Lewis, are already rumoured to be considering resigning to vote against the bill, other MPs say it depends whether they get to influence the bill’s passage through Parliament through amendments. MPs from all parties are demanding a white paper “Brexit plan”. 

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So what’s in it, and will there be much chance to influence what the government does next? Here is what you need to know:

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1. It’s short

Brexit minister David Davis said the bill would be simple, and indeed it only runs to 132 words. All the less to amend, as far as the government’s concerned.

The bill effectively asks Parliament to give the Prime Minister power to let the EU know that Britain will be leaving under the rules of Article 50.

Then it says the power will overrule any obstacles created by previous UK-EU treaties. 

And finally, it says that if the bill is approved, it will be known as “the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017”.

2. It can overrule Scotland

As well as ruling Parliament must have a say over Article 50, the Supreme Court ruled that the devolved administrations could not block the decision in Westminster. The accompanying notes to the bill repeats this:

The Bill does not contain any provision which gives rise to the need for a legislative consent motion in the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales or the Northern Ireland Assembly.

This will particularly annoy SNP MPs, since Scotland voted Remain and they are the biggest Scottish party in the Commons.  

3. The government is trying to bypass MPs

The government is trying to fast-track this legislation. It argues that following a normal bill timetable “would cause considerable delay” and miss the deadline of March 2017. “This would further generate uncertainty as to the timetable for our exit from the European Union,” it stated. MPs are expected to have five days to debate it.

The government is using reasons of speed to justify the fact it does not plan to formally share the legislation wtih the parliamentary committees. These are groups of MPs who scrutinise legislation. 

4. It’s free *innocent face*

In the explanatory notes, the government says: “The Bill is not expected to have any financial implications.” Technically true. Except of course, it will allow the PM to begin the process of leaving the EU single market. And the EU accounts for nearly 40 per cent of UK service exports…