On Wednesday, the House of Lords met to vote on setting into motion Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty as part of the Brexit movement. In an overwhelmingly disappointing blow to Prime Minister Theresa May, the House of Lords denied the bill with a 358-256 vote. Even some of the PM’s peers voted in opposition.
May urged Parliament to pass the bill so that the Brexit movement could remain on the timeline she has laid out. The outcome of the vote, however, will call for May to make an amendment to the bill that states all EU nationalists should receive the same residence rights as native-born Brits.
The bill will now head back to the House of Commons, where there will be a chance to amend the bill. Another vote will be cast in the House of Commons, and then sent back to the House of Lords for another, and possibly final, vote.
One cross-bench peer, Molly Meacher, is particularly optimistic of the upcoming second vote in the House of Commons. “I believe it can be won in the Commons on the basis of morality and principle. Tories are principled people, generally,” Meacher told BBC Radio. She also said that 30 Tories who said they will vote to support this amendment were considering backing the bill, though it is thought to be highly unlikely so many will ultimately do so.
According to UK law, if no amendment is made, but another passing vote occurs in the House of Commons that sends the bill back to the House of Lords, they can still shoot it down again. This will not kill the bill, though. Instead, this pattern could continue to go on until the bill passes or is changed. This process is known as ‘ping-pong’.
The Lisbon Treaty went into effect on December 1, 2009, as the beginning of the EU’s agenda to make itself “more democratic, more transparent and more efficient.”
The treaty laid out a set of new rules and regulations regarding member states of the union. These rules included the introduction of the EU presidency, voter rights of member states, and the introduction of Article 50. This article sets out the process of leaving the EU and says: “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”
Article 50 is key to the Brexit process because without it, Brexit can’t happen. The article must be set into motion, or ‘triggered’, in order for the Brexit wheels to start turning. To trigger the article, a member state of the EU that wants to leave the Union must inform the EU officials of such. The process sounds fairly simple, but a Supreme Court in the UK has made it rather difficult for pro-Brexit government officials.
On January 24, the Supreme Court ruled that only Parliament could set Article 50 in motion. Although the official announcement of the UK’s desire to exit the EU would come from the Prime Minister, she cannot submit such a request without the approval from Parliament.
Parliament in the UK works much like the Congress in the US. Two separate houses vote on bills to pass. Once the bill passes, it has the ‘stamp of approval’ from the entire governing body.
The Lisbon Treaty is a very vague series of documents, most likely because the EU wasn’t really counting on anyone leaving. Due to the lack of clarity, many people who live in Britain, as well as several political officials, believe an amendment should be added to the article that states all EU nationalists should continue to receive the rights they currently have after Brexit has concluded. While this is concerning to the Prime Minister and MPs that want to push through the legislation as it currently stands, this call for an amendment is comforting to immigrants who are living in the UK and don’t want to lose their rights because of an unclear law.
Once the article is approved by Parliament, which could take quite a while if the back-and-forth votes continue without resolution, the Prime Minister is given the go-ahead to send the UK’s notification to the EU that it wishes to exit the Union.
Immediately after Article 50 is triggered, the UK will have two years to come to an exit agreement with the EU. Both sides will have to compromise within this time period, and every member state of the EU must vote unanimously to approve. If an agreement doesn’t happen within the allotted time frame, the article expires and the UK has to start the entire process over – including the vote by Parliament.
There are 27 other member states currently within the EU, and the UK is the first to ever announce they are exiting. This means a unanimous vote from the other states may be easier said than done. The process of leaving the EU is described as ‘divorcing’ by senior officials.
Prime Minister May is hoping the bill will be passed by Parliament soon. If it passes, it will head over to Buckingham Palace. The Queen will then give her approval, known as royal assent, and officially declare the bill an Act of Parliament.
May has set forth her timeline for kicking off Brexit, which includes a March 31 deadline for the passing of the bill. While the recent vote is a setback, May is still hopeful that it will pass. She’s so hopeful, in fact, that she refuses to adjust her timeline accordingly. “I have much faith in our government that we can pass the bill and proceed toward our goal,” said the Prime Minister.
The House of Commons is expected to vote again on March 7. If it passes, the triggering of Article 50 can still happen well within the PMs timeline. With over 3 million EU nationalists living in the UK, we are curious to see if the amendment will be implemented, or if the House of Commons will seek to pass it without making any edits.