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UK House of Commons votes to give May power to begin Brexit

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UK House of Commons votes to give May power to begin Brexit

Members of the U.K.'s House of Commons have voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill that would give Prime Minister Theresa May the authority to trigger Britain's departure from the European Union.

MPs voted 498-114 to advance the bill, which still faces further debate in the Commons and an additional vote, slated for Feb. 8, to send it to the House of Lords, the unelected upper chamber of Parliament where May's Conservative Party does not have a majority. The Lords could amend the bill and send it back to the Commons, triggering a process known as ping pong, although Conservative ministers have warned the Lords against doing so and members of the Lords have indicated that they are not inclined to hold up the process.

The bill was made necessary after the U.K. Supreme Court ruled Jan. 24 that May did not have the authority to declare Britain's intention to leave under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty. In response, the government swiftly published the short piece of legislation and called for its speedy passage.

The leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, had ordered his MPs to back the legislation, saying it was important to respect the will of the electorate. Some 47 of Labour's 229 MPs dissented from that call, including several who were obliged to resign from the shadow cabinet as a result.

Opposition came as well from the Scottish National Party, which opposes Brexit and had proposed an amendment rejecting the bill's passage. That amendment was rejected prior to the main vote, by a margin of 336-100.

All 50 SNP MPs who voted did so in opposition to the bill at both stages. Thirty-three Labour MPs voted for the SNP amendment, with six voting against and the remainder abstaining.

A third vote Feb. 1 gave approval to the government's timetable for the bill's next steps, part of an overall plan that is expected to see it become law by mid-March, in time for May to meet her stated goal of triggering Article 50 by the end of the month. That vote was by a margin of 329-112.

Earlier in the day, May said during the weekly Prime Minister's Questions that the government would publish Feb. 2 a so-called white paper outlining its Brexit strategy.

Once Article 50 is triggered, Britain and the EU will have two years to negotiate the terms of Brexit. May vowed during a Jan. 17 speech that she would also seek to agree a comprehensive new free trade deal with the bloc during that period, although many European politicians have cast doubt on whether that would be feasible in such a timeframe.

MPs will also be given a vote on the final Brexit deal, May said during the same speech, although a spokeswoman later clarified that a vote against would not block Brexit itself.