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What is the process for Britain's Brexit legislation?

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government needs to pass legislation before it can trigger the formal Article 50 process of leaving the European Union. Below is a summary of the legislative process and the points to look out for.


Prime Minister Theresa May has said she wants to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. Britain’s Supreme Court has ruled that parliamentary approval to do so is required.

In response, the government has said it intends to seek approval by passing legislation. This means drawing up a bill and getting approval from both the elected lower house and unelected upper house of parliament to pass that bill into law.

“I will do everything in my power to make sure that the measure goes through swiftly and that while it is properly scrutinised, it is a simple and straightforward bill that delivers the triggering of Article 50 by March 31,” Brexit minister David Davis told parliament.


- The bill was published on Jan. 26. See the text here:

- It will be subject to votes in both houses of parliament.

- It is expected to pass both houses in time to trigger Article 50 by the end of March.

- Members of parliament are expected to try to amend the bill in both houses of parliament. This could slow the process but is not expected to cause significant delays.

- The first two-day debate is scheduled for Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. A further three days of debate will begin on Feb. 6.

- The Institute for Government think tank predicts the earliest the bill could get through the full process is by the end of February, but early March is more likely.

- Parliament breaks for a recess from Feb. 9-20, which will interrupt the process.

- The Conservative government has a working majority of 16 in the 650-seat lower House of Commons. Votes are passed by a simple majority.


CONSERVATIVE (329 seats): May’s ruling Conservatives are expected to vote in favour of the legislation, with a small number who may abstain or vote against.

LABOUR (229 seats): Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will ask his MPs to vote in favour of passing the legislation. Corbyn is expected to try to amend the bill but says he will not frustrate the process. A number of Labour MPs could defy his wishes.

SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY (54 seats): The SNP have said they will seek to amend the bill in parliament. Scotland’s Brexit minister said SNP MPs would vote against the triggering of Article 50.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS (9 seats): The party has said it will try to amend the legislation to provide for a second referendum on the shape of Britain’s final deal with the EU. If unsuccessful its MPs will vote against the legislation.


FIRST READING - A formality.

SECOND READING (Jan. 31 to Feb 1) - A debate is held to allow the house to agree to the principle of the legislation. No amendments can be made at this stage. MPs must vote to approve the second reading for the bill to progress.

PROGRAMME MOTION - Immediately after the second reading, the government will then put forward a programme motion, setting out the time it plans to allow for debate at each of the remaining stages. This is the first hurdle to be passed as if MPs do not feel the government is allowing enough time for debate they could reject this motion.

COMMITTEE STAGE (Feb. 6 to Feb. 8)- This will be the first opportunity for MPs to put forward amendments to the bill. They can either propose changes or add new clauses. The deputy speaker will select which amendments are going to be debated.

The House of Commons will then debate the bill and the amendments. Usually at least a week would be allowed for this. They will then be asked to vote on the bill and each of the amendments.

REPORT STAGE - If any amendments are voted through by the house at committee stage, the bill will pass to report stage. This is a new opportunity to add amendments. The speaker of the house oversees this process.

THIRD READING - This takes place immediately after report stage. It usually lasts an hour and is a general discussion of the bill. No amendments can be made.

HOUSE OF LORDS - The bill then passes to the House of Lords. The lords do not set out a programme detailing how much time they intend to spend discussing a bill so this stage is harder to predict. Lords can put forward amendments, each of which will be discussed and decided on in turn.

The lords are not expected to want to be seen to be frustrating the will of the people by opposing the bill or slowing it down too much, but may seek to make some changes.

If the lords agree amendments the bill passes back to the commons for their approval.

PING PONG - If the bill passes back to the commons, they debate and vote on the lords’ amendments. No new amendments can be introduced. In theory the bill can continue passing back and forth between the lords and commons until the final bill is agreed upon.

ROYAL ASSENT - Once the bill has been agreed by both houses of parliament, it is given royal assent, when the Queen formally agrees to make the bill into an Act of Parliament.

Compiled by William James and Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Stephen Addison