Theresa May has confirmed she intends to trigger Article 50 before the end of March.
Last night the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill cleared the House of Lords and the prime minister said it would receive royal assent “in the coming days”.
May will then have been handed the authority by parliament to begin the formal Brexit negotiations with Brussels.
In a statement to the House of Commons today, May said this would be a “defining moment for our whole country”.
It had been widely speculated that the legislation would have been given royal assent this morning - allowing May to trigger Article 50 today.
However the prime minister has decided not to act as quickly. “I will return to this House before the end of the month to notify when I have formally triggered Article 50,” she told the Commons.
May said there were a “number of processes that will take place in advance” of her notifying the EU.
Jeremy Corbyn accused May of being “complacent” about Brexit after she said “no deal” with the EU was better for the UK than a “bad deal”. The Labour leader warned “no deal is a bad deal”.
The passage of theEU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill was overshadowed yesterday by the bombshell announcement earlier in the day by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that she intended to hold a second independence referendum just as those talks were coming to a head.
The move drew a furious response from May who accused the SNP of “playing politics with the future of our country” with a vote that would only create “more uncertainty and division”.
Her comments were seen as an indication that she will not allow the referendum to go ahead until after the Brexit process is complete – which is expected to be in the spring of 2019.
Setting out her proposal, Sturgeon said that if Scotland was to have a “real choice” the vote should take place once the terms of the Brexit deal were known but “before it is too late to choose our own course”.
She will go to the Scottish Parliament next week to seek its authority to agree a “Section 30 order” - the procedure which allows it to legislate for an independence referendum – with the UK Government with a view to staging a vote between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.
On Monday night, the Lords finally backed down in their battle with ministers over their attempts to change the legislation after the Commons overturned two amendments previously backed by peers.
MPs voted by 331 to 286 to reject one amendment requiring Parliament to be given a “meaningful” vote on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and by 335 to 287 to dismiss a second amendment guaranteeing the future status of EU nationals living in the UK.
Following the Commons votes, they were then rejected by margins of 274 to 118 and 274 to 135 in the Lords, ending peers’ resistance to the Government’s plans.