May wins power to trigger Brexit Article 50

ReutersLONDON (Reuters) — British Prime Minister Theresa May cleared the final hurdle standing between her and the start of Brexit negotiations on Monday after Parliament passed legislation giving her the power to start the EU exit process.

Members of the lower house of Parliament voted to throw out changes to the bill made by the upper house earlier this month, after the government argued it needed freedom to operate without restriction to get a good deal.

Despite an attempt by the Liberal Democrats in the unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, to reintroduce the conditions, the Lords also went on to approve the legislation unamended late on Monday.

“We are now on the threshold of the most important negotiation for our country in a generation,” Brexit minister David Davis said in a statement.

“So we will trigger Article 50 by the end of this month as planned and deliver an outcome that works in the interests of the whole of the U.K.”

The bill will now be sent to the queen for symbolic approval which could be granted as early as Tuesday morning, leaving May ready to start a two-year negotiation period, as set out in Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty.

May’s spokesman hinted on Tuesday, however, that she might do so closer to the end of the month.

Her task in negotiating Britain’s EU exit was complicated on Monday by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon demanding a new independence referendum, to be held in late 2018 or early 2019, once the Brexit terms are clearer.

In recent weeks, the government had lost two key votes in the House of Lords which added conditions to the bill to demand that May guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in Britain and give lawmakers more powers to reject the final terms she reaches with the EU.

But May succeeded in warding off a potential rebellion from a handful of pro-EU Conservatives in the lower chamber, the House of Commons, where May only has a slim majority.

The Commons voted by 335 to 287 to reject the condition on EU nationals’ rights, and by 331 to 286 to reject the condition giving Parliament a greater say on the final deal.

Earlier May’s spokesman said Parliament would be involved in the Brexit process.

“We are determined Parliament will be engaged all the way through the process and afterwards,” he told reporters.

Sturgeon, O’Neill speak out

EDINBURGH (Reuters) — Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday demanded a new independence referendum in late 2018 or early 2019, once the terms of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union have become clearer.

An independence vote that could rip apart the world’s fifth largest economy just months before Brexit raises the stakes for Prime Minister Theresa May as she prepares to trigger two years of formal Brexit talks.

“If Scotland is to have a real choice — when the terms of Brexit are known but before it is too late to choose our own course — then that choice must be offered between the autumn of next year, 2018, and the spring of 2019,” Sturgeon told reporters in Edinburgh.

In the June 23 Brexit referendum, the U.K.-wide vote was 51.9-48.1 percent to leave the EU. Voters in England and Wales chose to leave while in Scotland and Northern Ireland they voted to stay, and since then the strains on the United Kingdom have deepened.

Hours after Sturgeon spoke, Northern Ireland’s largest Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein said it wanted a referendum on splitting from the United Kingdom “as soon as possible.”

“Brexit will be a disaster for the economy, and a disaster for the people of Ireland,” Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill told reporters in Belfast. “A referendum on Irish unity has to happen as soon as possible.”

Sturgeon, who heads Edinburgh’s pro-independence devolved government, said she would next week seek the approval of the Scottish Parliament to discuss with the U.K. government the details enabling a second referendum to take place.

The detailed arrangements for a referendum — including its timing — should be decided by Scotland’s Parliament, she said.

Scots rejected independence by 55-45 percent in a referendum in September 2014, but support for Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party has surged since then.

It is ultimately the British Parliament in Westminster — where May commands a majority — which decides whether Scotland can hold a second referendum.

But if she refused to approve such a vote she could provoke a constitutional crisis and stoke discord in Scotland.

While Sturgeon said the “door was still open” to talking to London, she added she was not expecting a change of tack over Brexit by May’s government, which says it will prioritize immigration controls over continued preferential access to the European single market.

“I cannot pretend that a compromise looks remotely likely given the hardline response so far,” she said.

‘Not a game’

May has not publicly said whether she would try to block a Scottish attempt to hold a second referendum, but has accused Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party of sacrificing Scotland’s interests through its “obsession” with securing independence.

“The tunnel vision that SNP has shown today is deeply regrettable,” May said.

“Instead of playing politics with the future of our country, the Scottish government should focus on delivering good government and public services for the people of Scotland. Politics is not a game.”

May’s spokesman said the evidence showed that the majority of people in Scotland did not want a second independence referendum, which he said would be divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty.

Sturgeon has said she wants Scotland to have its own deal as part of the United Kingdom’s Brexit agreement, to keep its preferential access to the single market.

But on Monday she said her efforts had hit a “brick wall of intransigence” in London and that she feared a bad deal or even no proper deal for Britain to leave the EU.

“I will now take the steps necessary to make sure that Scotland will have a choice at the end of this process,” she said.

“A choice of whether to follow the U.K. to a hard Brexit — or to become an independent country, able to secure a real partnership of equals with the rest of the U.K. and our own relationship with Europe.”Speech

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