Brexit Secretary David Davis called on lawmakers to give the government permission to implement the will of the British people who voted for the UKâ€™s formal departure from the European Union.
Davis kicked off the debate in the House of Commons in London on Tuesday and made the case that the issue is straightforward. The lower house of Parliament will discuss the 137-word bill that would authorize Prime Minister Theresa May to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
â€œWe will respect the will of the people and implement their decision by March 31,â€ Davis told a packed Commons, in which almost 100 lawmakers are seeking to weigh in on the issue. The government â€œseeks to honor the commitment the government gave to respect the outcome of the referendumâ€ last June.
May had hoped to bypass Parliament and start divorce talks with the bloc on her own initiative. Instead, the U.K. Supreme Court ordered her to draft legislation to get lawmakers to sign off. Last week, the government complied, keeping the bill short with a view to speeding the process along.
That hasnâ€™t stopped opposition lawmakers from proposing more than 130 amendments that fill an 85-page document in a move that could interfere with Mayâ€™s tight schedule.
The premier wants to pull the trigger by March 31. On Monday, the government said it hopes the bill will complete its parliamentary journey with passage through the upper, unelected House of Lords on March 7. That would potentially allow May to begin the Article 50 process at the EU summit on March 9.
â€œIt is not a bill about whether or not the U.K. should leave the EU, or how it should do so,â€ said Davis. â€œIt is simply about implementing a decision already made, a point of no return already passed.â€ The law is unlikely to be blocked, as the main opposition Labour Party has pledged to support it. That wonâ€™t stop some from trying to influence Mayâ€™s approach to the Brexit negotiations by stretching out proceedings and seeking some concessions.
For example, among the Labour amendments, there is a demand to secure â€œfull tariff- and impediment-free access to the single marketâ€ and a requirement for May to report back to lawmakers every two months during the negotiations. Yet the ultimate outcomeâ€”Parliament clearing the way for Mayâ€”is a foregone conclusion even for one of the more vocal supporters for staying in the 28-nation bloc.
â€œI have no doubt at all that the House of Commons, and following it the House of Lords, will vote to trigger Article 50, because it is essentially about whether you respect the outcome of the referendum or not,â€ Hilary Benn, the head of the main panel of lawmakers scrutinizing the governmentâ€™s Brexit policy, said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Monday.