Britain takes first step towards triggering Brexit

LONDON • The British government yesterday published a draft law that would authorise the Prime Minister to begin the procedure for leaving the EU, with Brexit Minister David Davis saying he expected the law to pass quickly.

This week, Britain's top court ruled that Prime Minister Theresa May must seek Parliament's approval to trigger Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, rejecting the government's argument that it could do so unilaterally.

The ruling is not expected to derail Mrs May's plans to invoke Article 50 by end-March, which will start two years of negotiations with the European Union on the terms of Britain's exit and its new trading arrangements. But it may force the government to reveal more of its negotiating position.

Mr Davis began seeking parliamentary approval by publishing legislation and introducing it to Parliament - the first stages in the normal lawmaking process, which will see both Chambers scrutinise the Bill.

"The British people have made the decision to leave the EU and this government is determined to get on with the job of delivering it," Mr Davis said yesterday.

"I trust that Parliament, which backed the referendum by six to one, will respect the decision taken by the British people and pass the legislation quickly," he added.

LONG-DRAWN-OUT PROCESS

A true free trade agreement between UK and EU won't be easy or fast for many reasons. It will be a question of many years.

FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO THE EU ANTHONY GARDNER

Conservative Prime Minister May has a small majority in the House of Commons and is expected to get the go-ahead from MPs, although opposition parties have said they will try to amend the legislation to make the government reveal more details of its Brexit plans.

The Bill will be debated next Tuesday and Wednesday. It is then expected to progress to a further debate stage, lasting three days from Feb 6 to 8.

The Bill's progress in the House of Lords, the Upper Chamber, is less certain as the government has no majority there and no control over the timing. If approved by the House of Lords, the Bill would then have to be signed off by the Queen before Mrs May can trigger Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty - the formal process for leaving the bloc.

Britain is banking its economic well-being after the EU divorce on securing swift trade deals with partners around the globe.

But former US ambassador to the EU, Mr Anthony Gardner, warned that securing a trade deal between the United States and post-Brexit Britain could take years. "A true free trade agreement between UK and EU won't be easy or fast for many reasons. It will be a question of many years," Mr Gardner said on his personal Twitter account yesterday.

"A US-UK (trade deal) won't be quick or easy either. It will take several years at least and depends on UK-EU trade relationship."

Mr Gardner, who was forced to step down when Mr Donald Trump took office as US president last Friday, spoke as Mrs May travelled to Washington to sketch the outlines of a future trade relationship between Britain and the US.

The British government has already laid the groundwork for future negotiations with India, Australia and New Zealand.

A Brexit supporter, Mr Trump has promised to push through a fast deal with Britain, but the EU insists this cannot be done until London has formally left the bloc.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2017, with the headline 'Britain takes first step towards triggering Brexit'. Print Edition | Subscribe