Theresa May hails ‘defining’ Brexit moment

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House of Commons

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The prime minister welcomed Parliament’s approval of legislation needed to trigger Brexit talks

Parliament’s backing for the government’s Brexit bill will be a “defining moment for our whole country”, Theresa May has told MPs.

The prime minister said her timetable of triggering formal negotiations by the end of March remained on track.

And she told the SNP – which has called for a second independence referendum – not to “play politics or create uncertainty or division”.

Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn accused the government of being “complacent”.

Mrs May’s statement to MPs on last week’s European Council summit came after the EU withdrawal bill was backed by the House of Lords, clearing the way for it to receive Royal Assent and become law.

This gives her the power to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin formal negotiations, which is expected to happen at the end of March.

‘Common ground’

It also comes after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she wanted an independence referendum to be held between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of the following year.

Welcoming Parliament’s backing for her Brexit bill, the PM told MPs: “This will be a defining moment for our whole country as we begin to forge the new relationship with Europe and a new role for ourselves in the world.”

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Nicola Sturgeon says the Scottish Parliament should determine the timing and wording of a second independence referendum

Brexit, she said, would “work for the whole of the United Kingdom”, adding: “That’s why we have been working closely with the devolved administrations, including the Scottish government – listening to their proposals and recognising the many areas of common ground, such as protecting workers rights and our security from crime and terrorism.

“So this is not a moment to play politics and create uncertainty – it’s a moment to bring our country together, to honour the will of the British people and shape for them a better Britain.”

Ms Sturgeon has said a second independence referendum was needed to protect Scottish interests in the wake of the UK voting to leave the EU.

High price?

And the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, pressed Mrs May to say if she was willing “even at this late stage… to secure a comprehensive UK-wide approach” to leaving the EU “or do you still plan to plough on regardless, even though you know what the consequences of that will be?”

The prime minister, who is considering how to respond to the demand for a referendum, said she had been in discussions with all the devolved administrations and criticised “constitutional game-playing with the future of the United Kingdom”.

She claimed most people in Scotland do not want a second referendum, stressing that “the most important single market for Scotland is the single market of the United Kingdom”.

But Mr Corbyn warned the prime minister that there was “no doubt that if the wrong decisions are made, we’ll pay the price for decades to come”.

“Now more than ever we need an inclusive government that listens and acts accordingly,” he said, adding that “all the signs are that we have a complacent government”.

He urged Mrs May to listen to the “collective wisdom” of Parliament, saying MPs deserved better than a “take it or leave it” decision on the final Brexit deal as he called for a “meaningful” vote.

He also pressed Mrs May to guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK as soon as possible.

The prime minister reiterated her desire to deal with the future of EU nationals at an “early stage” in Brexit talks, adding that UK ex-pats in other member states also need to be considered.

Theresa May hails ‘defining’ Brexit moment}