British Prime Minister Theresa May has won the backing of the lower house of parliament to trigger exit negotiations with the European Union.
The House of Commons approved the motion by 492 votes to 122 on Wednesday. The legislation now moves on to the upper house of parliament, the House of Lords, where it’s widely expected to be approved.
"We've seen a historic vote tonight," said the minister in charge of Brexit, David Davis. "A big majority for getting on with negotiating our exit from the E.U. and a strong, new partnership with its member states."
The Scottish parliament rejected Ms. May’s Brexit plans in a symbolic vote on Tuesday and the country’s leaders have raised the prospect of a second independence referendum.
The British people voted in a June referendum to leave the European Union, but Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in January that parliament must also weigh in on the process.
Though the lower house voted in favor of the measure, opposition remains strong in Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly in favor of E.U. membership during the June referendum.
Scotland’s Brexit minister, Michael Russell, said Britain cannot move forward with exit negotiations without first holding consultations with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Scottish parliament rejected Ms. May’s Brexit plans in a symbolic vote on Tuesday, and the country’s leaders have raised the prospect of a second independence referendum.
After months of ambiguity about her government’s position, Ms. May announced in January that Britain would leave the single market as well as the European Union.
Members of Ms. May’s government had previously suggested that Britain could negotiate a special deal to remain in the single market while having control over immigration from the continent.
But leading European officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, rejected this proposal, stating unequivocally that the free movement of labor is a precondition for single market access.
Ms. May has vowed to trigger Article 50 of the E.U. Lisbon Treaty in March. Triggering Article 50 formally opens a two-year window to negotiate a treaty with Brussels to leave the European Union.
If London and Brussels prove unable to reach an agreement in that time frame, Britain’s membership in the European Union will be automatically suspended.
Britain’s decision to leave the bloc has left E.U. citizens in the country uncertain about their legal status once Brexit is completed.
Opposition parliamentarians tried on Wednesday to pass an amendment that would have granted permanent residency to E.U. citizens living in the United Kingdom, but the measure was defeated in a 332-290 vote.
Spencer Kimball is an editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact: [email protected]