The government will introduce the legislation needed to trigger Article 50 “within days”, Brexit secretary David Davis told MPs today following the Supreme Court ruling which upheld the right of parliament to have a vote on Brexit.
Given the result of the referendum, MPs are highly unlikely to block the start of the formal two-year exit talks.
However Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems have all indicated they will try and amend the legislation in an attempt to influence the deal Theresa May strikes with Brussels.
And leading ‘Remain’ MPs in all parties, including Conservatives, have demanded the government produce a formal white paper setting out its priorities for the negotiations - rather than simply pointing to the prime minister’s Brexit speech.
Davis had himself previously supported the idea of there being a white paper. Hilary Benn, the Labour chairman of the Brexit select committee told him today to “agree with himself before he got this job” and do so.
Speaking in the Commons this afternoon, Davis confirmed the government wanted to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. “Parliament will rightly scrutinise and debate this legislation. I trust no one will try to make it a vehicle to thwart the will of the people or frustrate or delay the process of exiting the EU,” he said.
“This judgement does not change the fact that the UK will be leaving the EU and it is our job to deliver on the instructions the people of the UK have given us.”
Davis added: “There can be no going back. The point of no return was passed on June 23rd last year.”
Jeremy Corbyn said today Labour “respects the result of the referendum and the will of the British people and will not frustrate the process for invoking Article 50”. However the Labour leader said the party would try to “prevent the Conservatives using Brexit to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe” by amending any legislation.
Alex Salmond, the SNP’s International Affairs spokesperson, said he would table 50 amendments to the Article 50 - including measures to force the prime minister to give devolved administrations greater say in the process.
The Supreme Court ruled today that May must ask parliament to vote on triggering Article 50. However it will have come as a relief to the prime minister that it rejected the idea that the devolved assemblies be given a formal role in the process.
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said his MPs would vote against triggering Article 50 unless there was a second referendum on the outcome of May’s negotiations. “This Tory Brexit government are keen to laud the democratic process when it suits them, but will not give the people a voice over the final deal. They seem happy to start with democracy and end in a stitch up,” he said.
Farron’s demand was rebuffed by Davis. “I will not under any circumstances be supporting a second referendum,” he told MPS.