Most Conservative MPs and many others will want to see the Article 50 Bill speed through Parliament as swiftly as possible. There will be others still who do not, and these fall into three main groups. First, there are those who want Parliament’s role in the Brexit negotiations to be taken seriously, and who want to squeeze from the Government guarantees that Ministers will report back to it regularly. Second, there are others who want to debate some aspect of leaving the EU which they believe to be important – single market membership, for example, or the Irish dimension (to which this site will return soon). Finally, there are those who want to derail Brexit altogether, and deliberately blur the difference between Parliament being kept informed about the negotiation and Parliament trying to conduct it.
The Bill should pass through the Commons without too much trouble, given Labour’s agonies on the EU issue – though Tory MPs will reportedly be kept in the Palace of Westminster until midnight tonight, just in case the Bill’s opponents spring a procedural wheeze. The Lords is a bastion of Remainery, but most peers (with the exception of a block of ageing Liberal Democrat peers who have little to lose) seem to grasp that defying the referendum result would have serious consequences for them.
David Davis will move Second Reading today, and will want to kill his opponents with kindness – not, admittedly, the kind of manoeuvre with which he is associated, but a sensible enough one under the circumstances. He and other Ministers will want to separate the opponents of Brexit from those who wish to raise points important to them, or to ensure that Parliament plays its rightful part in the proceedings to come. There is a fine line between MPs advising Theresa May what to do and telling her what to do – no Government could run a negotiation simultaneously with 650 MPs – but the Brexit Secretary should be as helpful as he can. If MPs want regular reports, let them have them. If they want a White Paper, let them have it as soon as possible (which looks likely to be the case).
Some see Brexit as a disastrous route for Britain. Others view it as the high road to self-government – and a return to our vocation as a free-trading, globally-engaged nation. This site is among the latter. But either way, the debate about which way to take is closed. The people have made their decision. It is an extraordinary story – all the more so today because the Bill, contrary to all reasonable expectation, is not the main event in the political news. The capacity of Donald Trump to de-rail everyone and everything else seems to have no limit.