THE way lies open for the Prime Minister to trigger Brexit after the House of Lords decided against insisting on amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. The Royal Assent was expected yesterday.
The Bill authorises Mrs May to notify the EU formally, under Article 50 of the European constitution, of the UK’s intention to leave the EU. The Lords amended the Bill last week, but the Commons stripped out the amendments, which included guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens now living in the UK, and requiring a parliamentary vote in two years’ time on the outcome of the negotiations.
The Lords Spiritual had been divided on both issues (News, 2 March, 8 March). When the unamended Bill returned to the Lords on Monday, however, none of the bishops present sought to reinsert their amendments, and the Bill was carried.
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said that further delays would hinder, not help, the EU citizens about whom peers were concerned; and that the amendment requiring a subsequent parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal “shows no awareness of the realities represented by the Article 50 timescale”.
In a blog, the Suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid, wrote that, having consulted British citizens living in the diocese, he thought the Government should unilaterally guarantee EU citizens’ place in Britain. “The UK Government’s approach makes me feel I’m simply being used as a bargaining chip,” he said.
It was rumoured that Mrs May intended to announce on Tuesday that she was triggering Article 50; but on Monday morning, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said that she would seek a second independence referendum, and no announcement was made.
Ms Sturgeon argued that, given that most Scottish voters had voted Remain in last year’s referendum, they must be now offered the choice of a “hard Brexit” in the UK or becoming independent and seeking to stay inside the EU and its single market.
The Church of Scotland did not oppose another referendum, should the Scottish Parliament support the idea, the convener of the Kirk’s Church and Society Council, the Revd Dr Richard Frazer, said in a statement.
The Church would continue its position of “active neutrality” on the independence question itself, he said, although it had always been in favour of remaining a member of the EU. “All those who take part in this debate about Scotland’s future — and the UK’s future as well — must be committed to holding a debate which informs and inspires, and not one which derides and dismisses.”
The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, said that Ms Sturgeon’s announcement reflected the breakdown in relations between the Scottish government and Westminster. “Refusal on the part of the British Government to allow a second referendum would inevitably give rise to further ill-feeling in relationships.”
Faith communities were generally neutral on constitutional issues, and wisely so, Bishop Chillingworth said. “But faith communities also care deeply about the quality of the national conversation — about the need for all voices to be heard respectfully.”