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Commons approves Brexit Bill - how did Northern Ireland MPs vote on May's plan?

By Arj Singh

MPs have given Theresa May their authority to formally begin Brexit in an overwhelming House of Commons vote.

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal Bill) was approved at third reading, its final Commons stage, after Jeremy Corbyn ordered his MPs to back it.

But the Labour leader was unable to prevent the resignation of senior shadow cabinet minister Clive Lewis, who quit the frontbench to vote against the Bill in defiance of a three-line whip.

The legislation, which will give the Prime Minister the authority to begin exit talks under Article 50 of the EU treaties, was passed by 494 votes to 122, majority 372.

It will now have to pass through the House of Lords before Mrs May can invoke Article 50, which she has promised to do by April.

Two Ulster Unionist Party MPs voted in favour of the Bill: Tom Elliott (Fermanagh & South Tyrone) and Danny Kinahan (Antrim South).

Eight DUP MPs backed the Bill - Gregory Campbell, Nigel Dodds, Jeffrey Donaldson, Ian Paisley, Gavin Robinson, Jim Shannon, David Simpson, and Sammy Wilson.

Three SDLP MPs voted against the Bill. They were Mark Durkan, Alasdair McDonnell and Margaret Ritchie.

Independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon also voted against it.

A total of 52 MPs rebelled against Mr Corbyn's orders and voted against triggering Article 50, up from the 47 who opposed the legislation at second reading last week.

Former chancellor Ken Clarke was again the only Conservative to vote against the Bill.

The simple two-clause Bill was passed without any changes after around 40 hours of debate in the Commons. The government saw off the threat of a significant Tory rebellion over the rights of EU citizens already in the UK.

Just three Tory backbenchers - Ken Clarke, Tania Mathias and Andrew Tyrie - rebelled to back a bid to make ministers unilaterally guarantee EU nationals' rights. The amendment put forward by Labour's Harriet Harman was defeated by 332 votes to 290, majority 42, after Home Secretary Amber Rudd sent a letter to Conservative MPs offering them assurances over the issue.

The government has said it will treat EU nationals' status as a priority in Brexit negotiations and seek to strike a reciprocal agreement to also protect the rights of British expats in Europe as soon as possible.

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, who last week blamed a migraine for a failure to attend a vote on the Bill, backed the triggering of Article 50.

As Mr Lewis announced his resignation, Mr Corbyn appeared to leave the door open for his return to the shadow cabinet, remarking: "I wish Clive well and look forward to working with him in the future."

Asked if the comment meant Mr Lewis could return to the shadow cabinet at some point, a Labour source said they "wouldn't rule anything out".

Mr Lewis, touted by some as a potential future Labour leader, said he could not back the Bill given Norwich, in which his constituency lies, voted 56.2% to 43.8% to remain in the EU in June's referendum.

He said: "When I became the MP for Norwich South, I promised my constituents I would be Norwich's voice in Westminster, not Westminster's voice in Norwich.

"I therefore cannot, in all good conscience, vote for something I believe will ultimately harm the city I have the honour to represent, love and call home.

"It is therefore with a heavy heart that I have decided to resign from the shadow cabinet. It has been a privilege to work with Jeremy Corbyn and be part of the shadow cabinet. I will continue to support our party and our leader from the backbenches to the very best of my ability."

Mr Corbyn said: "I would like to thank Clive for his work in the shadow cabinet, which has underlined what an asset he is to the Labour Party and our movement."

A government source warned peers not to delay the Bill's progress through the Lords.

"The Lords will face an overwhelming public call to be abolished if they now try and frustrate this Bill - they must get on and deliver the will of the British people," the source said.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron vowed the party's peers would seek to amend the Bill in the Lords, including another attempt to ensure a referendum on the final Brexit deal.

He said: "Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords will seek to make changes to the government's plans. Our goal will be to protect Britain's membership of the single market, protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and to give the people the final say on Theresa May's deal."

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