United Kingdom parliament gave its approval on Monday (Mar 13) for Prime Minister Theresa May to start Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, even as Scotland signalled its opposition by announcing plans for a fresh independence vote. The House of Lords rejected a last-ditch attempt to amend a bill empowering May to begin Brexit, paving the way for it to become law as early as Tuesday.
The prime minister could then trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty at any time, starting two years of talks that will end with Britain becoming the first country to leave the bloc. May’s spokesman sought to play down speculation that she would send her notification letter to the European Council on Tuesday, when the bill is expected to receive royal assent from Queen Elizabeth II.
“We have been clear that the prime minister will trigger Article 50 by the end of March,” her spokesman said ahead of the vote, heavily emphasising the word “end”. But the prospect of an imminent start to Brexit was enough to push the nationalist devolved government in Scotland into calling for a new independence referendum in United Kingdom parliament.
May has said Britain will leave Europe’s single market in order to cut immigration, a move that the Scottish National Party (SNP) in power in Edinburgh has warned would be highly damaging to jobs and growth. SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said since the June referendum vote for Brexit that Scotland, where a majority wanted to stay in the EU, sought a different future.
On Monday, she made good on her warning, promising to give Scotland “a choice at the end of this process” by early 2019 – before Britain leaves the EU. The European Commission, however, quickly responded saying that Scotland would have to reapply to join the EU rather than inheriting Britain’s membership.