May hurries to keep Brexit timetable on track after blow from highest court
Theresa May will table fast-track legislation this week to keep her Brexit plan on track after suffering a defeat in the UK Supreme Court that ruled she could not trigger an exit from the EU without the consent of parliament.
The British prime minister is expected to publish a concise bill on Thursday to give her full authority to invoke Article 50, the EU treaty’s divorce clause, at her discretion. She will try to push it through both the House of Commons and House of Lords by mid-March, allowing her to stick to her original timetable and trigger Brexit by the end of that month.
The Supreme Court defeat was a setback for Mrs May, since it will allow MPs and peers to tie her hands in the Brexit negotiations by tabling amendments to what Brexit minister David Davis said would be “a straightforward bill”.
But aides say Mrs May remains confident she will ultimately win parliamentary backing amid signs that most MPs and peers from the opposition Labour party will not try to frustrate last year’s referendum vote in favour of Brexit.
In the biggest constitutional case for a generation, the highest UK court ruled Mrs May could not use the royal prerogative – an executive power passed down from the days of absolute monarchy – to start the process. The Supreme Court ruled eight to three that the premier would have to secure parliamentary consent, upholding a High Court ruling last November which triggered speculation that MPs might try to block Brexit.
There was relief in Downing Street that the court did not rule that devolved parliaments and assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should have a say in the process, or even a veto.
Opposition to Brexit at Westminster has crumbled and most Labour MPs are expected to follow leader Jeremy Corbyn, who says they must not be seen as trying to thwart the referendum vote.
Government lawyers have already drafted a skeleton Brexit bill and MPs are expected to debate the measure as early as next week. The House of Lords would begin its scrutiny in late February. Some officials believe the bill could pass through parliament by March 13.
Mrs May will want to avoid triggering Article 50 too close to March 25, the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the European project’s founding text.
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