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Britain's House of Commons begins debating Article 50 trigger bill

The bill grants Prime Minister Theresa May the power to begin Brexit negotiations. Opposition strategies remain divided on whether to oppose the bill outright or seek to amend it so as to safeguard certain conditions.

As parliamentary lawmakers took their seats in Westminster on Tuesday to being debating the draft bill, Brexit Secretary David Davis reminded the assembly that the proposed legislation was not an opportunity to reconsider whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union (EU).

"It is simply about parliament empowering the government to implement a decision already made [in the referendum], a point of no return already passed," Davis said in his opening remarks on the first of two days designated to initial debates. 

Großbritanien Britisches Parlament beginnt mit Debatte über Brexit-Gesetz | David Davis (picture alliance/empics/PA Wire)

Brexit Minister Davis said that Brexit was inevitable

May's government was forced to introduce the short draft legislation, entitled the "European Union Notification of Withdrawal Bill," after the British Supreme Court ruled that power to trigger Great Britain's exit from the 28-member state bloc lay with parliament and not with the Prime Minister.

The executive branch insisted that despite the additional step of needing to secure parliamentary approval, it would still trigger Article 50 by the deadline previously announced by May of March 31.

Opposition divided

The House of Commons will likely pass the bill by a comfortable margin due to the fact that May's Conservative party holds a 16-seat majority in the lower house and main opposition and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has called on his party not to obstruct the bill's passage.

However, not all Labour representatives are standing behind their leader. Some have instead promised to either represent their constituencies by voting against the bill or introduce amendments that would give parliament more say over the eventual shape of negotiations. 

Amendments proposed

Five reasoned amendments, which state why the bill should not get a second reading and should be withdrawn, have been put forward by various parliamentarians.

One such amendment, introduced by Angus Robertson of the Scottish National Party (SNP), argued that, among other things, May's bill does not give voice to the devolved parliaments of Great Britain's nations - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. He also objected to the fact that the promised White Paper, which outlines the government's Brexit policy proposals, has yet to be published.

However, the Guardian newspaper reported that May plans to published the detailed document on Thursday. 

Other reasoned amendments highlighted the government's unwillingness to guarantee British access to the European single market, its failure to assure reciprocal rights for EU nationals in the UK and British nationals in the EU, and its intent to not submit the final Brexit proposal to either an electorate or parliamentary vote as reasons to reject the bill.

Großbritanien Britisches Parlament beginnt mit Debatte über Brexit-Gesetz | Theresa May (picture alliance/empics/PA Wire)

Could Prime Minister May publish the white paper on Thursday?

In addition to the reasoned amendments, lawmakers also submitted 85 pages of amendments to the bill itself. These will be debated at a later stage, assuming a procedural vote on Wednesday moves the bill forward for detailed committee review.

If approved by the House of Commons, the bill will proceed to the upper chamber, the House of Lords, where the lack of a conservative party majority could cause delays in the bill's passage.

cmb/jm (dpa, AP, Reuters, AFP)

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