It became clearer last night than it has ever been that the UK is going to leave the European Union.
There have been a number of major obstacles in the way of Brexit, including the sudden setback that the government suffered when the courts told it to consult Parliament over Article 50.
That ruling was upheld last week by the Supreme Court.
The overwhelming bulk of MPs opposed Brexit, and yet the House of Commons last night voted overwhelmingly the other way – to begin the formal process of leaving.
Article 50 has not yet been triggered – the legislation that passed yesterday evening merely paved the way for the prime minister to set Brexit in motion formally. But it is highly telling that all Conservative MPs but one supported the legislation, even though more than half of them had advocated staying in the EU. Similarly, Labour MPs – despite bitter divisions – mostly backed the Bill. Ten of 11 unionist MPs backed the Bill, while Lady Sylvia Hermon and the SDLP opposed it. Sinn Fein has no influence, due to its boycott of Westminster.
It is clear that the House of Commons will not stand in the way of Brexit. The response of the House of Lords remains to be seen. It would be extraordinary if Westminster blocked last year’s narrow, yet decisive, vote to quit the EU.
Since that vote, it has seemed that a settled majority of people in the country has come to accept Brexit.
There has not even been the level of uproar from Scottish and Irish nationalists that there might have been. This could yet change, but it does give hope for the future of the UK.
With hindsight, it becomes clearer that Britain’s position within the EU was anomalous – wanting to be part of the club but demanding ever more concessions. Brexit is a more coherent position: The EU is now free to forge ahead as a smaller, more tightly bound unit if it can find agreement to do that. But it is far from clear it will even survive. It tried to do too much, too fast. That, soon, will no longer be the UK’s problem.
But we too have major decisions to take and negotiating to do.