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The Article 50 process: What happens now?

9 February 2017

Jurisdictions: United Kingdom

By Charles Brasted

Last night the Article 50 Bill, which allows the Prime Minister to begin withdrawal talks under Article 50, was approved by the House of Commons. In this blog, we briefly outline the expected next steps and timeline.

  • The legislation required to authorise the UK Government to trigger Article 50 was passed unamended by the House of Commons last night.
  • It now enters the House of Lords, where the Government does not have a majority. 
    • 20 February: First debate on the principle of the Bill (the "second reading"); 
    • 27 February – 1 March: Substantive debate (where amendments can be proposed); 
    • 7 March: Lords vote on whether to pass the Bill unamended or to send it back to the House of Commons for reconsideration. 
  • It is widely expected that the Bill will be passed on 7 March 2017, and it could enter into effect the same day. 
    • Given the large majority in favour of the Bill in the House of Commons, it would be highly controversial for the House of Lords to refuse to pass the Bill, but they may seek to delay it by sending it back to the Commons with amendments, triggering the process known as ping-pong, for which there is currently no timetable. 
    • If the Bill stalls in this way, the Government cannot force it through (without Lords support) until next year. It is almost inevitable that they would have to concede amendments to get it through sooner. 
  • Ministers have openly stated that the PM anticipates issuing the Article 50 notice, triggering the start of the formal two-year period for withdrawal negotiations, on 9 March 2017 at a European Council meeting in Brussels.
  • Whether that notice will be accompanied by details of the UK's negotiating position is unclear. However, Government ministers have suggested that the notice will be "comprehensive".