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Brexit: UK moves closer to leaving EU as majority of MPs back Article 50

By Arj Singh

Brexit is edging closer following an overwhelming House of Commons vote in favour of legislation to pave the way for Theresa May to trigger the formal process of leaving the EU.

The European Union (Notification Of Withdrawal) Bill will allow the Prime Minister to invoke Article 50 of the EU treaties and was backed by 498 MPs to 114, a majority of 384, at second reading in the House of Commons, its first stage.

The eight DUP MPs and two Ulster Unionists backed the Bill, while the SDLP's three MPs and Lady Sylvia Hermon voted against it.

DUP Commons leader Nigel Dodds said: "It would be utterly wrong to reject what the people of the United Kingdom have decided in a national vote.

"I can think of nothing that would be more calculated to undermine the union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom than for Northern Ireland to be able to thwart the will of the people of the United Kingdom as a whole.

"That would be a deeply anti-unionist position to take. I think it is right and proper that we respect the special needs of Northern Ireland and we are arguing those vigorously in government."

But it split the Labour Party as Jeremy Corbyn was unable to contain a revolt by 47 MPs, including two shadow cabinet ministers, who defied his orders to vote against the Bill.

Shadow environment secretary and York Central MP Rachael Maskell and shadow equalities minister and Brent Central MP Dawn Butler both defied a three-line whip so they could vote in line with their heavily Remain-backing constituencies. A total of 10 junior shadow ministers and three whips, who are supposed to enforce party discipline, also voted against triggering Article 50.

The Labour leader's close ally, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, did not vote after being taken ill and leaving Parliament at around 5pm.

Her spokeswoman said she was planning on voting with the party whip in favour of triggering Article 50.

A majority of Labour MPs, 167, backed the Bill, while 15 did not vote.

Mr Corbyn will decide later on how to respond to the rebellious junior frontbenchers after making it clear that shadow cabinet members would have to resign if they defied the whip. He will also need a mini-reshuffle to replace Ms Maskell, Ms Butler and shadow ministers Jo Stevens and Tulip Siddiq, who quit earlier this week to oppose the Bill.

Following a marathon 17 hours of debate over two days, MPs will now await the publication today of the government's promised white paper setting out its strategy for withdrawal from the EU.

Downing Street said it would "reflect the government's plan for Brexit as the PM set out in her speech on our negotiating objectives".

The major Commons skirmishes on the Bill are expected to take place next week during its committee stage, when the government is likely to face attempts to amend it from all sides.

A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: "Labour MPs voted more than three to one in favour of triggering Article 50. Now the battle of the week ahead is to shape Brexit negotiations to put jobs, living standards and accountability centre stage."

A Conservative spokesman said: "Forty-seven Labour MPs voting against the Article 50 Bill shows Labour can't speak for themselves, let alone speak for the country. They're hopelessly divided and can't even agree whether they should back the Bill to implement the decision taken by the public to leave the EU."

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