UK MPs approve first hurdle of Brexit bill

British MPs on Wednesday approved the first stage of a bill empowering Prime Minister Theresa May to start pulling Britain out of the European Union.

MPs approved the bill, which would allow the government to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty and formally begin two years of exit negotiations, by a margin of 498 to 114.

It was the first Brexit-related vote in the House of Commons, coming after more than 17 hours of debate, with a second and final vote in the lower house set for next week.

The opposition Labour party ordered MPs not block the bill, but 47 rebelled against leader Jeremy Corbyn. He is yet to announce how he will respond to frontbenchers and other lawmakers who refused to tow the party line.

MPs on Wednesday also voted on a Scottish National Party (SNP) amendment seeking to derail the Brexit bill, defeating it by 336 votes to 100.

May is under intense pressure to push the bill through quickly, having promised EU leaders she would trigger Article 50 by the end of March.

She told MPs she would publish a long-awaited Brexit strategy paper on Thursday, opening it to parliamentary scrutiny while the Article 50 legislation makes its way through parliament.

“It will reflect the government’s plan for Brexit,” May’s spokeswoman told reporters.

The government had sought to exclude parliament, insisting it had the power to trigger Article 50 on its own, but the Supreme Court last week ruled it must consult lawmakers.

Most MPs campaigned to stay in the EU ahead of last June’s referendum, but as debate on the bill began Tuesday, many said they would accept the result, however reluctantly.

The bill could be delayed in the upper House of Lords, where May’s Conservative Party does not have a majority — and where the unelected peers have no fear of a public backlash.

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