MPs give huge backing to bill to quit the European Union

MPs in the House of Commons as proposals to give Theresa May the power to start formal Brexit talks have cleared the Commons, after the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill was given a third reading by 494 votes to 122 - a majority of 372. Wednesday February 8, 2017. Photo: PA/PA Wire

MPs in the House of Commons as proposals to give Theresa May the power to start formal Brexit talks have cleared the Commons, after the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill was given a third reading by 494 votes to 122 - a majority of 372. Wednesday February 8, 2017. Photo: PA/PA Wire

MPs have given Theresa May their authority to formally begin Brexit in an overwhelming House of Commons vote.

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal Bill) was approved at third reading last night, its final Commons stage, after Jeremy Corbyn ordered his MPs to back it.

But the Labour leader was unable to prevent the resignation of senior shadow cabinet minister Clive Lewis, who quit the frontbench to vote against the Bill in defiance of a three-line whip.

The legislation, which will give the prime minister the authority to begin exit talks under Article 50 of the EU treaties, was passed by 494 votes to 122, majority 372.

Click here to see a breakdown of how MPs voted by party

But it will now have to pass through the House of Lords before Mrs May can invoke Article 50, which she has promised to do by April.

A total of 52 MPs rebelled against Mr Corbyn’s orders and voted against triggering Article 50, up from the 47 who opposed the legislation at second reading last week. Former chancellor Ken Clarke was again the only Conservative to vote against the Bill.

The simple two clause Bill was passed without changes after around 40 hours of debate in the Commons.

The government saw off a significant Tory rebellion over the rights of EU citizens already in the UK. Just three Tory backbenchers – Ken Clarke, Tania Mathias and Andrew Tyrie – rebelled to back a bid to make ministers unilaterally guarantee EU nationals’ rights.

The amendment put forward by Labour’s Harriet Harman was defeated by 332 votes to 290, majority 42, after Home Secretary Amber Rudd sent a letter to Conservative MPs offering them assurances over the issue.

The government has said it will treat EU nationals’ status as a priority in Brexit negotiations and seek to strike a reciprocal agreement to also protect the rights of British expats in Europe.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who last week blamed a migraine for a failure to attend a key vote on the Bill, backed the triggering of Article 50. As Mr Lewis announced his resignation, Mr Corbyn appeared to leave the door open for his return to the shadow cabinet, remarking: “I wish Clive well and look forward to working with him in the future.”

Asked if the comment meant Mr Lewis could return to the shadow cabinet, a Labour source said they “wouldn’t rule anything out”.

Mr Lewis, touted as a potential future Labour leader, said he could not back the Bill given Norwich, in which his constituency lies, voted 56% to remain in the EU.

Key EU vote: how the MPs divided