The Triggering of Article 50: A European Perspective

Over the past few weeks and months, the preparations being made by the UK to exit the European Union have dominated the countries news and media outlets. It has bred an environment where high profile court cases, large scale protests, parliamentary headaches and a seemingly divided nation have become the norm.

The debate will take a new dimension on Wednesday when Prime Minister Theresa May officially triggers Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon and starts the Brexit process.

She will send a letter to the EU in Brussels informing them of the UK’s desire to leave the European Union as defined in the treaty signed by Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2007 and begin a round of intense diplomatic negotiations.

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Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon

The Treaty itself provides for a two-year timetable for the perspective member state to leave the EU but many believe that negotiating Britain’s exit will take a lot longer than two years.

While much of the focus of the debate has been on what the UK will do, the European Union has been preparing its negotiating position and determining what is required to ensure an exit which keeps both parties happy.

The EU’s Three Musketeers

Key to the success of the negotiations will be the EU’s negotiating team, made up of the following individuals, representing the different parts of the EU legislative body:

VerhofstadtGuy Verhofstadt, European Parliament chief negotiator on Brexit

An ardent federalist whose appointment made headlines around the EU, Mr Verhofstadt will lead the negotiations on behalf of the European Parliament and can be a very charismatic and good orator.

However, he’s not the most popular figure amongst the Brexit camp, with UKIP’s former leader MEP Nigel Farage once claiming that “Guy Verhofstadt hates everything we stand for, which should mean a much shorter renegotiation.”

The European Parliament are keen to set up a special taskforce on Brexit, which Mr Verhofstadt is hotly tipped to lead and with his reputation for being a strong personality both politically and personally, the EU are making an aggressive statement by appointing him.

BarnierMichel Barnier, European Commission Chief Brexit Negotiator

Former French Minister and Commission Vice-President Michel Barnier will lead the European Commission’s Taskforce for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the UK.

Mr Barnier previously served as Single Market Commissioner (2010-2014), during which time he brought forward several legislative initiatives for the financial sector, such as the establishment of the new banking union as a response to the financial crisis.

A man of significant political connections in both the EU itself and the remaining 27 member states, Mr Barnier was appointed by European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and will be under intense pressure to keep a tough line in the negotiations.

SeeuwsDidier Seeuws, European Council Special Taskforce Chief Negotiator

The final member of the EU’s three musketeers, Mr Seeuws is a diplomat who served as Chief of Staff to former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (2011-2014) and his appointment to this post has been seen by many as a power grab by the European Council as it looks to take a leading role in the Brexit negotiations.

Mr Seeuws serves as the Director of Transport, Telecommunications and Energy in the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union.

Each of these individuals works for a specific arm of the EU machine, each with its own agenda and objectives in the negotiating process. However, there will be significant pressure from both inside the EU and out to maintain a collective voice during negotiations, as this will ensure an efficient and timely Brexit.

Turning 27 into 1

Differing voices, aims and objectives across the 27 remaining states make it harder to maintain this collective voice especially as the UK has many political and economic allies amongst the less influential member states.

Additionally, general elections in many of the member states occurring over the two-year period will make it difficult to maintain a consistent consensus with potentially adversarial politicians coming into the fray.

While the EU will be keen to keep these voices together, the UK will undoubtedly improve its chances of getting what it wants by keeping the voices separate and thereby increasing the political pressure on the EU to acquiesce to their demands.

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Public relations vs popular perception

The Brexit vote was a watershed moment in European politics, as it is the first instance of a member state choosing to leave the perceptually safe and stable EU.

Let’s think about that for a moment from a public relations standpoint: an organisation which is itself designed to engender cooperation and union is now being left by one of its most important member states.

PR wise it’s a disaster, because of two things: the British voice still carries a lot of weight in Europe and more importantly the EU has failed in its objective of keeping a member state happy.

Press coverage of the negotiations over the next two years will vary from positive to negative and a perceptually tough or overly harsh negotiation process can make the EU seem like a petulant parent disciplining its wayward child.

Negativity in negotiation will be seen by European member states and will colour public opinion of the EU in those countries still within the Union.

Often in PR, it’s a case of turning a negative into a positive and the same is true in this case. The EU will be keen to turn the adversity of Brexit into an opportunity to bring the remaining nations of the EU together.

Most likely there will be a period of sustained EU glad-handing and summits designed to keep member states onside and ensure that the British exit remains an isolated incident. Brexit may force the EU to be more accommodating to the remaining 27 states.

Separation Anxiety?

Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world and despite many attempts by the press to belittle it, still a major player in global politics.  A British exit from the European Union is a big event in global politics and casts a significant shadow on the EU.

World powers not in the EU such as China, the U.S and Russia could see the failure of the EU to retain Britain as a signal that it is no longer an effective political entity and can be ignored.

The current American administration seems to prove this point, with President Trump seemingly keener to engage with Theresa May than with Angela Merkel and her European compatriots.

Retaining relevance and importance in global affairs will need to be a by-product of the negotiating position adopted by the EU in its dealings with Britain as it leaves.

Creating a new identity for the EU post Brexit will be key to this, with the reinvention of the EU putting the failure of the EU to retain Britain behind it.

First to leave: Not the last to go?

Many European nations, particularly in the southern European states which have been so severely affected by the migrant crisis and the economic crash may be keen to follow Britain’s lead.

The rising tide of populism that has pervaded Europe over the last year has placed many so called populist politicians in positions of power where they can legislate for a similar sort of exit for their own country.

While these exits may be popular in their respective countries they are catastrophic for the EU.

Public opinion has never been more volatile towards the European Union and more exits would likely signal the end of the European Union as an effective political entity.

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Financial Market Turmoil?

As we saw in the immediate aftermath of the UK’s referendum result, political developments can have a significant effect on the course and stability of financial markets.

Even though UK financial markets have gained ground in the months following the Brexit vote, the financial damage was evident and the UK has yet to regain the strong financial position that it had prior to the voting result.

An argument can be made that the Euro is more volatile than the Pound and could suffer significant economic and financial damage as a result of a protracted negotiation with Britain.

With the damage from the financial crisis still fresh in the minds of many European politicians, the EU will be keen to ensure that no significant damage is done to European economies by Brexit.

This mitigation could colour the EU’s negotiating position towards a non-punitive and speedy Brexit.

There has been significant speculation that the EU will exert a punishment levy on Britain, with figures bandied about in the press of anything up to 50 billion pounds.

With access to the single market being a key concern for Britain, there is scope in the negotiations for specialised access to be granted after financial reparations are made.

However, there is a need to keep British pounds flowing into the EU, a need which could reduce this potential figure to ensure that British money still flows into the EU and vice versa. Any punitive financial measure taken by the EU against Britain could jeopardise this precarious economic balance.

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Seeds of the future

Britain will leave the EU, whether it be in two years or ten- that much is not in doubt. What the EU does in its dealings with the newly independent Britain will sow the seeds of any future relationship between the two entities.

A strong relationship between the two, which seems the most likely will greatly benefit both and if at some point in the future Britain chooses to reapply to join the EU then they will probably be welcomed back with open arms.

A punitive and unfriendly exit for Britain could result in a soured relationship between the two, leading to unrest and enmity between the two entities. In this case a country scorned could be extremely detrimental to the EU’s political, economic and social success as an entity.

Brexit could be the start of the end of the EU or it could signal the beginning of a reformed and reorganised EU, which was the overall objective of the Cameron administration when it sought to renegotiate Britain’s role within the Union itself.  Reform of this sort could ensure longer term stability and prevent more countries going through the exit door.

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View from the Green Seats- Brexit Bill debate begins in House of Lords

Prime Minister Theresa May sits behind the Speaker (back row) as Baroness Smith of Basildon speaks in the House of Lords, London, during a debate on the Brexit Bill.

Peers from all political parties have begun their first day of debating the Government’s Brexit Bill in the House of Lords.

Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May was even in attendance, sitting on the benches just in front of the Queens chair. She had previously urged the Lords not to frustrate the political process of Brexit and to obey the will of the people.

These sentiments were echoed by Conservative peer Lady Evans who said that: “This bill is not about revisiting the debate.”before adding “Noble Lords respect the primacy of the elected House and the decision of the British people on 23 June last year.”

Opposition Labour peer Baroness Smith of Basildon said that the government would not be given a ‘blank cheque’ for Brexit and promised to make ministers consider “reasonable changes.” to the proposed bill.

Baroness Smith said that this was not “delaying the process” but part of the process of Brexit.

Lord Newby, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, said the bill could be changed and sent back to the House of Commons for reconsideration, arguing there was a “world of difference between blocking… and seeking to amend it”.

He said that the government’s approach was “little short of disastrous” and “to sit on our hands in these circumstances is unthinkable and unconscionable.”

There will be two days of debating the bill in the House of Lords this week, before it moves to committee stage and a potential vote on the final makeup of the legislation.

Although the Lords have said that they will not allow the bill to pass unopposed and unchanged in the same way that it did in the commons, they would be very reluctant to risk open warfare with the commons over the Brexit bill so the bill should pass reasonably quickly.

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Trump National Security Adviser resigns after Russian talks cover-up

Retired general Michael Flynn, who had served as national security adviser to U.S President Donald Trump resigned on Monday after allegations of secret discussions with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Mr Flynn claimed he had mistakenly misled the vice-president, Mike Pence, and other Trump officials about the nature of phone calls in December to the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kisilyak.

It was revealed that these discussions were regarding the lifting of U.S Sanctions against Russia, in place since the last days of the Obama administration and due to alleged state sponsored hacking by Russia.

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Flynn admitted to lying to the Vice President, Mike Pence

In his resignation letter, Mr Flynn said “In the course of my duties as the incoming national security adviser, I held numerous phone calls with foreign counterparts, ministers, and ambassadors. These calls were to facilitate a smooth transition and begin to build the necessary relationships between the president, his advisers and foreign leaders. Such calls are standard practice in any transition of this magnitude.”

“Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador. I have sincerely apologised to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology.”

The resignation comes after it was revealed that the Department of Justice had warned the White House that Mr Flynn might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

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Retired  General Joseph Kellogg

President Trump has named retired general Joseph Kellogg, as acting national security adviser, pending the appointment of a permanent successor. It has been widely reported that former CIA director David Petraeus may be appointed to the post but these reports have yet to be confirmed.

Mr Trump, who is currently playing host to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose not to directly comment on the resignation which is the latest in what has been a chaotic start to his life in the Oval Office. He instead took to twitter bemoaning the number of information leaks which have occurred over the last few weeks.

Adam Schiff, Democrat senator and member of the House Intelligence Committee has called on the Trump administration to confirm when contact with Russian officials began and who was ultimately responsible for allowing them to take place.

Schiff said: “The Trump administration has yet to be forthcoming about who was aware of Flynn’s conversations with the ambassador and whether he was acting on the instructions of the president or any other officials, or with their knowledge.”

Suspicions regarding Russian involvement in the U.S Election still remain and this latest resignation will do nothing to allay fears that Russia may be interfering in American politics at the highest level.

International Whispers-Kim Jong-Un’s brother ‘assassinated’ in Malaysia

The older half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has died in Malaysia under suspicious circumstances.

South Korean news station TV Chosun is reporting that Kim Jong-nam was attacked by two unidentified women with “poisoned needles” at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Reports that these women were agents of North Korea have yet to be confirmed.

Nam was rushed to hospital by ambulance but died on route. The cause of his death has yet to be confirmed by Malaysian police.

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Kim Jong-Nam was an outspoken critic of North Korea

Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, holds no official title and has played no part in running North Korea.

However weeks after his younger half-brother took power, he described the regime as “a joke to the outside world” and said he opposed the hereditary transfer of power in the country.

If it is confirmed that North Korean operatives were responsible, his death would be the highest-profile killing connected directly with North Korea since Kim Jong-un ordered the arrest and execution of his uncle and close adviser, Jang Song-thaek, in December 2013.

The notoriously secretive regime has often reacted severely to criticism from both internal and external sources, with purges and assassinations being the weapons of choice for Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea.

Kim Jong-nam’s death comes just days after the regime came under renewed international pressure following the test-launch of a medium-to-long-range ballistic missile to coincide with Donald Trump’s summit with the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

 

View from the Green Seats-Trump to speak in Parliament plans dropped

British officials have confirmed that a plan to allow Donald Trump to speak in Parliament as part of a state visit to the UK have been shelved.

It is expected that the Presidents state visit will be moved to late summer or early autumn, when Parliament is in recess for the summer.

Parliament will be in recess from June until the 5th September, with a months recess commencing on the 15th September to make time for party conferences to take place.

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Not In My House: Speaker Bercow railed against Mr Trump

The move by the government is aimed at averting the prospect of a parliamentary snub for Mr Trump and follows earlier comments made by the Speaker of the House, John Bercow.

Speaker Bercow had come under pressure to resign from the speakership following his unguarded comments about the President in which he accused him of being racist and sexist.

Conservative MP James Duddridge yesterday tabled a motion of no confidence against the speaker in the House of Commons, but this was widely expected to be dismissed.

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James Duddridge MP for Rochford and Southend East

Mr Duddridge said  “I’ve done this because Speaker Bercow for a long time has been overstepping the mark and with his comments on the state visit of President Trump he has clearly expressed views.”

“That is not the role of the Speaker, and it is impossible for him to chair debates as Speaker adjudicating on things he has expressed a view on.”

Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke echoed Mr Duddridge’s sentiments saying : “John Bercow has politicised the office of Speaker and his position is untenable.”

This view was not shared by his colleague Claire Perry MP, who said “I think for us to try and remove a speaker over something that he said would be really rather drastic. He’s entitled to his opinions, perhaps he just shouldn’t have addressed them on this particular issue.”

No formal dates for President Trump’s state visit to the UK have been announced, but don’t expect this to be the last potential opposition action against this most controversial of U.S Presidents.

Breaking Whispers: Article 50 Bill passed for final commons reading

Within the last hour MP’s have voted overwhelmingly in favour of passing the governments European Union (notification of withdrawal) bill to the final stage of debate in the House of Commons.

The final stage, comprising a third reading of the bill was approved by a commons vote of 494 votes for to 122 votes against- a majority of  372.

What happens at a third reading?

  • Debate on the Bill is usually short, and limited to what is actually in the Bill, rather than, as at second reading, what might have been included.
  • Amendments (proposals for change) cannot be made to a Bill at third reading in the Commons.
  • At the end of the debate, the House decides (votes on) whether to approve the third reading of the Bill.

After that if the bill is approved, it passes to the House of Lords for its first reading and debate. Once the bill passes in the House of Lords it moves forward for Royal Assent and will eventually become law.

Why is this significant?

The passage of the bill into the third stage of reading stops opposition parties from tabling amendments which could derail the governments Brexit agenda.

Many amendments to the bill have been tabled as part of the second reading and have been successfully defeated in subsequent parliamentary votes.

Its a crucial victory in the governments timetable of a 31st March triggering of Article 50 and the commencement of the UK leaving the EU.

Commons Reaction

david-davis-boris-johnson-e1476175519793David Davis, Secretary of State for Brexit released the following statement after the vote:

“We’ve seen a historic vote tonight – a big majority for getting on with negotiating our exit from the EU and a strong, new partnership with its member states.

It has been a serious debate, a healthy debate, with contributions from MP’s representing all parts of the UK, and I respect the strong views on all sides.

The decision on EU membership has been made by the people we serve. It is now time for everyone, whichever way they voted in the Referendum, to unite to make a success of the important task at hand for our country.”

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage immediately took to Twitter to express his delight at the positive vote:

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Gisela Stuart, the Labour MP who chaired the Vote Leave campaign said: “This bill has passed with significant majorities unamended which is a clear signal to the House of Lords that they should do the same.”

The vote was not without some controversy however, as Shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis resigned his post in order to defy the Labour parties three line whip and vote against passing the bill.

Newly elected Labour MPs

Mr Lewis, a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn issued a statement via the party saying: “When I became the MP for Norwich South, I promised my constituents I would be ‘Norwich’s voice in Westminster, not Westminster’s voice in Norwich’. I therefore cannot, in all good conscience, vote for something I believe will ultimately harm the city I have the honour to represent, love and call home.”

4c71bc1669a2e0dbf91fe4f69ebeef74Mr Corbyn said he understood the difficult position of some of his MP’s but said they had been ordered to back the Article 50 because the party would not “block Brexit”.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who was widely derided after she missed last week’s initial vote on the bill due to a migraine, backed it this time, saying: “I’m a loyal member of the shadow cabinet and I’m loyal to Jeremy Corbyn.”

Breaking Whispers-Government gives MP’s vote on final Brexit bill before it is signed

The government have today agreed to give MP’s a vote on any final Brexit deal before it is signed.

Speaking in Parliament earlier today, Brexit Minister David Jones confirmed that the government’s vote will cover withdrawal from the EU, and the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

He confirmed that both Houses of Parliament will get a vote on the final deal before the deal is concluded and that parliament will vote on the deal before the European parliament does.

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David Jones MP

Mr Jones said: “First of all we intend that the vote will cover not only the withdrawal arrangements but also the future relationship with the European Union. Furthermore, I can confirm that the government will bring forward a motion on the final agreement to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded, and we expect and intend that this happen before the European parliament debates and votes on the final agreement.”

Following todays concession by the government members of Parliament have this evening voted against including a labour proposed amendment to the Brexit bill that would allow a parliamentary vote on any potential Brexit deal negotiated by the Government.

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Chris Leslie MP

The vote follows a motion by the Labour MP Chris Leslie in the House of Commons earlier today.

The amendment, known as NC110 comprised the following:

“Future relationship with the European Union

(1) Following the exercise of the power in section 1, any new Treaty or relationship with the European Union must not be concluded unless the proposed terms have been subject to approval by resolution of each House of Parliament.

(2) In the case of any new Treaty or relationship with the European Union, the proposed terms must be approved by resolution of each House of Parliament before they are agreed with the European Commission, with a view to their approval by the European Parliament or the European Council.”

A parliamentary vote on adopting the motion into the bill was narrowly defeated with 326 votes against to 293 for adopting the motion, a majority of 33.

Several prominent Conservative MP’s who had voted remain voted with Labour in favour of the amendment, including Kenneth Clarke, Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen.

A secondary motion demanding a Brexit reset button in the case of an unfavourable deal which was proposed by the SNP was also defeated but by a much larger majority of 288.

The government faces another vote tomorrow on the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, but tonight’s vote was seen as an opportunity for the opposition to derail the governments Brexit plans.

However since the vote was defeated Theresa May is on course for achieving her aim of getting the article 50 bill through the Commons without it being amended.

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View from the Green Seats- Speaker: Trump should not be allowed to speak in Parliament

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons has today said that Donald Trump should not be allowed to address Parliament, in comments made earlier today in Parliament.

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Bercow said speaking before Parliament was “Not an automatic right, but an earned honour”

Speaking in parliament, he said “We value our relationship with the US. If a state visit takes place, that is way beyond the pay grade of the Speaker. However, as far as this place is concerned, I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are important considerations in the House of Commons.”

The remarks were made after a point of order raised by the Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who had earlier in the day organised an early day motion calling on the speaker to not give his permission to the government, which would allow Mr Trump to speak in Westminster.

The motion was supported by 163 MP’s.

Mr Bercow who’s role is non-political, is one of the three Parliamentary “Key Holders” said that he could not block a state visit by President Trump to the UK but would use the keyholder position to stop the American president from speaking to both houses.

“In relation to Westminster Hall, there are three key-holders … the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Speaker of the House of Lords and the lord great chamberlain, and ordinarily we are able to work by consensus and the hall would be used for a purpose such as an address, by agreement of the three key-holders.”

Qualifying his remarks he went on to add ” Before the imposition of the migrant ban, I would myself have been strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall. After the imposition of the migrant ban by President Trump, I am even more strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall.”

While the Speakers intervention was welcomed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the government have called Mr Bercow’s comments “hugely political and out of line”.

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Stephen Doughty MP

Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who’s initial motion drew the speakers remarks praised Mr Bercow, saying  “I am delighted that the Speaker has listened to members from across the house regarding our deep concerns that Donald Trump not be honoured with an address in Westminster Hall or elsewhere in the Palace of Westminster, after his comments and actions on women, torture, refugees and the judiciary.

“Our parliament stands for liberty, equality and independent scrutiny of government. It is vital we stand up for those principles not only here but across the world. Mr Speaker has made that crystal clear today.”

 

Brexit White Paper: Government sets out life after EU

David Davis the Secretary of State for Brexit has today unveiled a government white paper on Brexit.

The paper outlines the governments 12 principles required for a successful exit from the European Union.

The move comes just twenty-four hours after the Government’s successful vote to adopt the European Union (notification of withdrawal) bill.

Mr Davis said that the UK’s  “best days are still to come”, outside the EU.

Key points from the white paper include:

  • Trade: The government has reasserted its position that the UK UK will withdraw from the single market, with the eventual aim of seeking a new customs arrangement and a free trade agreement with the EU.
  • Immigration: A new system to control EU migration into the UK will be introduced, and could be phased in to give businesses vital time to prepare for the new rules.
  • British citizens living abroad and EU citizens living in the UK: The paper confirms that the government wishes to secure an agreement with the EU to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK and those Britons living in Europe.
  • Sovereignty: Under the proposed plan, Britain will exit from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice but seek to set up its own legal framework to cover things like trade disputes and employment legislation.
  • Border: The government are aiming for “as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
  • Devolution: As more powers come back to the UK from the EU in the negotiating process, the government have confirmed that it will look to give more powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a move that it hopes will placate the predominantly remainer nations.
  • Security:  The document confirms that the UK will seek to continue working with the EU “to preserve UK and European security and to fight terrorism and uphold justice across Europe”. This will include remaining in Interpol, the European Arrest Warrant and cross border information sharing initiatives.

The white paper says the government aims to deliver “a smooth, mutually beneficial exit” but says this will require “a coherent and coordinated approach on both sides”.

The paper also reasserts the governments commitment that Article 50 will be triggered no later than the end of March.

Labour have criticised the white paper, saying that it “means nothing” and argued that it had been produced too late for meaningful scrutiny.

The criticism of the timing of the paper was echoed by leading Scottish National Party MP Steven Gethins who took to twitter to voice his disapproval.

The white paper will now pass to the committee stage of becoming a law, which allows for amendments to be made before it passes to the House of Lords for an upper chamber vote.

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“Taking control of our own laws”: David Davis, speaking earlier today in Parliament

Breaking Whispers-MP’s back Governments Article 50 bill

MP’s have voted overwhelmingly to back the governments European Union (Notification of withdrawal) bill in a parliamentary vote today.

The final count was 498 votes in favour with 114 votes against conferring a majority of 384.

The bill will now pass to the next stage in the political process, clearing the way for Prime Minister Theresa May to publish a government white paper on Brexit tomorrow.

Tonight’s vote followed weeks of speculation that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would impose a three line whip on Labour MP’s, urging them to vote in support of the government.


What is a three line whip?

In the UK a three-line whip is an instruction given to Members of Parliament by the leaders of their party telling them they must vote in the way that the party wants them to on a particular subject. Or more roughly translated, vote as we all vote or you’re out.


Forty-Seven member of the Labour party defied their leaders wishes and voted against the government, along with members of the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Labour Shadow Cabinet members Rachael Maskell who served as Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary and Dawn Butler who served as Shadow Equalities Minister resigned their front bench posts in order to vote against the government.

Prominent europhile and former Conservative chancellor Kenneth Clarke voted against the government after yesterday likening the Prime Ministers Brexit plans to Alice In Wonderland: “Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and emerge in a wonderland where suddenly countries throughout the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that previously we’ve never been able to achieve.”

Today’s vote concludes two days of parliamentary debate on the Brexit bill.

The bill now faces further scrutiny in the Commons and the House of Lords before it can become law.

The prime minister has set a deadline of 31 March for invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, getting official talks with the EU started and this is the first of many steps to come in achieving this goal.

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