PM May could trigger Brexit process as early as today

LONDON • Prime Minister Theresa May could kickstart the two-year process for Britain's exit from the European Union as early as today but was faced with a final hurdle in Parliament yesterday as lawmakers thrashed out the final wording of the Bill that will give her the power to trigger Brexit.

The government has called on lawmakers to throw out changes to the Bill made by the Upper House of Parliament, arguing that Mrs May and her ministers need freedom to operate without restriction to get a good deal.

"Please don't tie the prime minister's hands," Brexit Minister David Davis said on Sunday, in a plea to lawmakers in Mrs May's Conservative Party who have threatened to rebel.

The task of keeping lawmakers happy and persuading the Upper House that the government has listened to their concerns fell on Mr Davis, who was expected to speak in Parliament around 16.00 GMT (midnight, Singapore time).

The debate comes after the government lost two key votes in Parliament's upper chamber in recent weeks, adding conditions into the Bill saying Mrs May must guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in Britain and give lawmakers more powers to reject the final terms that she reaches with the EU.

To overturn those changes, Mr Davis had to ward off a potential rebellion in the Lower House, where Mrs May has only a slim majority, from a handful of pro-EU Conservatives who say Parliament should be able to prevent the government walking away from negotiations and leaving without a deal.

However, a source with knowledge of cross-party discussions on the legislation played down the likelihood of success for the dissenters.

"I just don't think the numbers are there... the prospects of either amendment passing (in the Lower House) are slim," the source said.

After a two-hour debate and at least one vote, the Bill was due to be sent immediately back to the Upper House for debate and approval, which was expected to start from 20.30 GMT.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2017, with the headline 'PM May could trigger Brexit process as early as today'. Print Edition | Subscribe