Fear of being seen as going against the democratic mandate on the EU referendum – and its repercussions – prompted a large number of MPs to vote in favour of the Brexit bill in the House of Commons on Wednesday night, clearing its first major hoop.
The bill will now go to House of Lords, which is supposed to be dominated by pro-EU members, but there were already calls that the lords should also clear the bill without much ado to avoid facing renewed calls for the abolition of the upper house.
Virendra Sharma, senior Labour MP from Ealing Southall, was the only Indian-origin MP to vote against the bill that seeks to authorise the May government to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that sets outs the two-year process to leave the EU.
After the opposition Labour and other parties failed to get their amendments in, the bill was passed overwhelmingly by 494 votes to 122. Prime Minister May intends to start the exit process by the end of March.
As supporters of Brexit – including sections of the news media – exulted at the bill’s passage, those on other side of the argument rued the outcome, alleging that the MPs had failed to do their duty.
In an editorial titled ‘MPs fail their first test’, The Guardian wrote: “The courts ruled that legislators must decide on Britain’s place in Europe. The Commons has not learned its lessons yet…Too many on both sides of the Commons nonsensically deployed their experience and expertise to vote for a bill they admitted to not supporting”.
“Too many MPs genuflected to a referendum decision that sets Britain against its neighbours and its own place in the world and puts the UK economy at hazard…too many of them felt compelled to go through the lobbies in support of a bill that they believe, correctly in our view, will damage Britain.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faced much trolling online for a tweet after the bill’s passage: “Real fight starts now”. Out of 229 Labour MPs, 52 voted against the bill as Corbyn faced another resignation from his shadow cabinet , Chris Lewis.
Brexit secretary David Davis said after the bill’s passage: “We’ve seen a historic vote tonight – a big majority for getting on with negotiating our exit from the EU and a strong, new partnership with its member states.”