British Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: BLOOMBERG/JASON ALDEN
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: BLOOMBERG/JASON ALDEN

London — The British government had no intention of revoking its withdrawal from the European Union once the formal exit process was triggered, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said on Monday.

May aims to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty by the end of March, starting up to two years of divorce talks.

Lawyers for the government have said that, once started, the process is irrevocable, but some EU leaders say Britain can change its mind and a legal challenge to determine whether it can be reversed has been filed with an Irish court.

"We have no intention of revoking Article 50," the spokesman told reporters.

"The British people were very clear (that) they want us to leave the EU. Article 50 is the mechanism by which we start that process, so this government is very clear that it will deliver on the result of that referendum."

Debate begins

Britain’s upper house, the House of Lords, on Monday begins debating legislation to empower May to trigger Brexit. Earlier this month, the House of Commons, passed the legislation without amendment. The lords are not expected to block the bill, but the government could be forced into concessions as it does not have a majority in the 805-member upper house:

Conservative: 252

Labour: 202

Liberal Democrat: 102

Cross-bench: 178

Nonaffiliated: 31

Bishops: 26

Other: 14

This is the expected timeline for the final stages of the bill:

• February 20-21: second reading, members of the House of Lords hold a two-day debate on the bill’s key principles and main purpose. It is an opportunity to flag concern or areas where they think amendments are needed but they are not expected to vote on details.

All members can speak, and 190 have signed up to do so. A vote is not expected at the end of the second reading on whether to progress the bill to the committee stage, but one could be called. The bill is highly unlikely to be defeated at this stage.

• February 27 and March 1: committee stage, at which there is a detailed examination and discussion of proposed amendments, which may be voted on. All members can speak and they cam discuss an issue for as long as they want.

So far, lords have proposed 11 pages of amendments to add conditions. Amendments on guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, and calling for the government to give parliament a vote on the final Brexit deal are expected to attract the most support.

• March 7: report stage and third reading, lords debate bill’s final wording and may make and vote on further amendments.

Ping pong?

Amendments by lords will be passed back to the House of Commons for approval. The bill will be passed back and forth, a process known as ping pong, until both houses agree on the wording. There is no time limit on this.

The government has said it expects this process to be completed in time for May to stick to her timetable of triggering formal divorce talks by the end of March.

The House of Lords probably does not want to be seen as frustrating the referendum result, so if the Commons rejects its amendments it may not push for them.


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