On 13 March 2017, the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill 2016-17, more commonly referred to as the Brexit Bill, was passed unamended by Parliament. The Brexit Bill will shortly receive Royal Assent allowing Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, to give notice to the European Council of the UK’s intention to leave the EU. Although many expected notice to be given as soon as the Brexit Bill was passed, officials have stated that it will actually be given in the final week of March.

The House of Commons rejected the two amendments made by the House of Lords, namely:

  • requiring the Government to protect the status of EU nationals living in the UK within three months of triggering of Article 50; and
  • requiring both Houses of Parliament to approve: (a) the UK’s withdrawal agreement with the EU before the European Parliament debates and votes on that agreement; (b) the agreement on the future relationship of the UK with the EU and (c) any decision by the Prime Minster that the UK shall leave the EU without an agreement as to the applicable terms.

Its reasoning was that these were not matters that needed to be dealt with in the Bill. The House of Lords accepted the House of Commons’ decision paving the way for the Brexit Bill to be passed.

In terms of the amendment on EU nationals’ rights, the MPs rejected it by 335 votes to 287, with the Lords then accepting that decision by 274 to 135. The second amendment on whether to hold a meaningful final vote on any deal after the conclusion of the Article 50 negotiations was rejected by MPs by 331 votes to 286. The Lords accepted that decision by 274 to 118.

The passing of the Brexit Bill unamended is no doubt a welcome relief for the Prime Minister, as it not only enables her to trigger Article 50 by the end of March, as she intended, but it also gives her the unfettered power to negotiate with the EU as she deems appropriate.