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The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 26 January 2017. This two-clause Bill would give the Prime Minister the power to notify the European Council of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the European Union under the terms of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. It does not contain an obligation to exercise this power, and it is does not specify any deadline or timescale for exercising it. This is a separate piece of legislation from the Great Repeal Bill which the Government intends to introduce in the next Queen’s Speech to repeal the European Communities Act 1972.

The Bill has been introduced following a judgment by the Supreme Court on 24 January 2017, reached by a majority of eight to three, which held that an Act of Parliament is required to authorise ministers to give notice of the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU. The Supreme Court rejected the Government’s argument that this could be done by exercising a prerogative power.

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, has issued a three-line whip for his MPs not to block the Bill, but Labour has tabled a number of amendments intended to allow a “meaningful” vote in Parliament on the Brexit deal, to establish a number of “key principles” it wants the Government to see to negotiate during the process, and to ensure “robust and regular” parliamentary scrutiny. The Liberal Democrats have said they will seek to amend the Bill to secure a referendum on the terms of the UK’s future relationship with the European Union. The Scottish National Party (SNP) said that its MPs would introduce a reasoned amendment to reject the Bill, and would also table 50 amendments to the Bill.

Theresa May has acceded to calls from the Labour Party and others to publish a white paper on the Government’s objectives for the Brexit negotiations, but the date of its expected publication is not yet known.

Devolution issues have also been raised with regard to the triggering of Article 50. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Sewel Convention—according to which the Westminster Parliament does not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters except with the agreement of the devolved legislature—does not give rise to a legally enforceable obligation. The Government has stated that the Bill “does not contain any provision which gives rise to the need for a legislative consent motion in the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales or the Northern Ireland Assembly”. However, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, said that her Government would bring forward a legislative consent motion on the Bill to ensure that the Scottish Parliament had the opportunity to vote on whether or not to consent to the trigger of Article 50. Plaid Cymru announced that they would also seek to table a legislative consent motion in the National Assembly for Wales.

The Government expects the Bill to pass through both Houses of Parliament and gain royal assent before 31 March 2017, the deadline Mrs May has set out for triggering Article 50. The Government intends to fast-track the Bill to achieve this. It is scheduled to have its second reading in the House of Commons on 31 January and 1 February, to be considered in committee of the whole House on 6, 7 and 8 February, and to complete its remaining stages in the Commons on 8 February before coming to the House of Lords. A number of Labour MPs have expressed dissatisfaction with the length of time allocated to the Bill, but it has been reported that Jeremy Corbyn does not intend to oppose the programme motion.

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