JILL LAWLESS, AP
LONDON (AP) — Britain’s House of Commons plans to vote Wednesday on a bill authorizing Prime Minister Theresa May to start exit talks with the European Union — the first major test of whether lawmakers will try to impede the Conservative government’s Brexit plans.
The vote comes after two days of debate in which many lawmakers from both government and opposition parties said they would respect voters’ June 23 decision to leave the EU and back the bill.
Former Treasury chief George Osborne, a pro-EU Conservative, said “to vote against the majority verdict of the largest democratic exercise in British history” would set Parliament against the people and “provoke a deep constitutional crisis in our country.”
But some pro-EU legislators accused the government of rushing Britain toward the EU exit door with little idea of what is on the other side.
“Voting for departure is not the same as voting for a destination,” said Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, who called on the government to guarantee a second referendum to approve a final deal with the bloc.
The pro-independence Scottish National Party said it will try to pass a “wrecking amendment” blocking the start of divorce talks because the British government has not disclosed detailed plans for its negotiations with the bloc.
SNP lawmaker Angus MacNeil said, in acting to trigger Brexit, “the House of Commons has taken leave of its senses.”
“It’s crossing its fingers and hoping for the best,” he said.
The government will publish a White Paper outlining its strategy for withdrawal on Thursday, May announced, but it’s unclear how many new details it will contain.
The U.K.’s largest opposition party, Labour, says it will try to amend the bill to prevent an economy-shocking “hard Brexit,” — in which Britain loses full access to the EU’s single market and faces restrictions or tariffs on trade— but at a later stage.
The bill is due to return to the House of Commons for a final vote next week before moving on to Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords.
The government was forced to introduce the Brexit legislation after a Supreme Court ruling last week torpedoed May’s effort to start the process of leaving the 28-nation bloc without a parliamentary vote. It wants to have the bill approved by early March so May can meet a self-imposed March 31 deadline for triggering EU divorce talks.
Meanwhile, Britain’s former top diplomat to the EU warned Wednesday that disentangling the U.K. from the bloc will be a long and arduous process.
Ivan Rogers, who resigned in January after telling the government that a deal could take a decade, told Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee that Brexit will involve “a negotiation on a scale we haven’t experienced, probably ever.”
“This is going to be on a humongous scale,” he said.
Rogers said consensus among the other EU nations was that a new free trade deal between Britain and the bloc would take until the early 2020s to be ratified.
One major wrangle is likely to be over how much Britain will have to pay the EU to leave. Rogers said EU officials currently put the figure at 40 billion to 60 billion euros ($37 billion to $56 billion).
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