Theresa May hails ‘defining’ Brexit moment
Parliament’s backing for the government’s Brexit bill will be a “defining moment for our whole country”, Theresa May has told MPs. The prime minister said her timetable of triggering formal negotiations by the end of March remained on track.
And she told the SNP – which has called for a second independence referendum – not to “play politics or create uncertainty or division”. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn accused the government of being “complacent”.
May’s statement to MPs on last week’s European Council summit came after the EU withdrawal bill was backed by the House of Lords, clearing the way for it to receive Royal Assent and become law. This gives her the power to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin formal negotiations, which is expected to happen at the end of March.
It also comes after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she wanted an independence referendum to be held between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of the following year.
Welcoming Parliament’s backing for her Brexit bill, the PM told MPs: “This will be a defining moment for our whole country as we begin to forge the new relationship with Europe and a new role for ourselves in the world.”
Brexit, she said, would “work for the whole of the United Kingdom”, adding: “That’s why we have been working closely with the devolved administrations, including the Scottish government – listening to their proposals and recognising the many areas of common ground, such as protecting workers rights and our security from crime and terrorism.
“So this is not a moment to play politics and create uncertainty – it’s a moment to bring our country together, to honour the will of the British people and shape for them a better Britain.”
The prime minister, who is considering how to respond to the demand for a referendum, said she had been in discussions with all the devolved administrations and criticised “constitutional game-playing with the future of the United Kingdom”.
She claimed most people in Scotland do not want a second referendum, saying that “the most important single market for Scotland is the single market of the United Kingdom”.
But Mr Corbyn warned the prime minister that there was “no doubt that if the wrong decisions are made, we’ll pay the price for decades to come”.
“Now more than ever we need an inclusive government that listens and acts accordingly,” he said, adding that “all the signs are that we have a complacent government”.
The prime minister repeated her desire to deal with the future of EU nationals at an “early stage” in Brexit talks, adding that UK expats in other member states also need to be considered.
Former Labour minister Kate Hoey, one of a small number of Labour MPs to have been Leave campaigners, told Mrs May that “millions” of Labour supporters would be delighted that she can now trigger Article 50.