Brexit vote: Clive Lewis quits shadow cabinet as MPs back bill

MPs vote on Brexit

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Some Conservative MPs applauded after the result was announced

MPs have overwhelmingly agreed to let the government begin the UK’s departure from the EU in their final vote on the Brexit bill.

The draft legislation was approved by 494 votes to 122, and now moves to the House of Lords.

Shadow business secretary Clive Lewis was one of 52 Labour MPs to defy party orders to back the bill and he resigned from the front bench.

PM Theresa May wants to trigger formal Brexit talks by the end of March.

She will do this by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, but requires Parliament’s permission before doing so.

Mr Lewis, who earlier said he was undecided on whether to support the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, announced his resignation as MPs began voting for the final time.

He said he “cannot, in all good conscience, vote for something I believe will ultimately harm the city I have the honour to represent, love and call home”.

Leader Jeremy Corbyn said he understood the difficulties the vote presented some of his MPs but said they had been ordered to back the Article 50 because the party would not “block Brexit”.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who missed last week’s initial vote on the bill, backed it this time, telling the BBC: “I’m a loyal member of the shadow cabinet and I’m loyal to Jeremy Corbyn.”

The Labour rebellion was five MPs up on last week’s vote, while former Chancellor Ken Clarke was again the only Conservative to vote against the two-clause bill.

Earlier the bill survived several attempts to change its wording and add extra conditions. These included Labour MP Harriet Harman’s bid to protect the residence rights of EU citizens in the UK, which was outvoted by 332 votes to 290, with three Conservative MPs rebelling.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer insisted Labour would keep “chipping away” at the government’s plans, pushing for concessions on tariff-free access to the single market and the future of the UK’s tax regime.

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Clive Lewis announced he was resigning shortly before the final vote on the bill

Once the bill passes the Commons, it will be debated in the House of Lords after it returns from recess on 20 February.

During the wide-ranging debate, Labour former minister Caroline Flint said rules needed to be brought in to manage migration, as the “net benefits” had “not been equally shared across the country”.

SNP justice spokeswoman Joanna Cherry warned that the government could face “a slew of legal claims” if it did not address the rights of EU nationals living in the UK before starting the Brexit process.

Brexit minister David Jones said “once again” that the government recognised the issue of EU nationals’ rights was “extremely important” and will address it “as a matter of priority”.

He urged all MPs to withdraw their amendments so “we can start the process of withdrawal” from the European Union.

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Brexit Minister David Jones steered the bill through the Commons

On Tuesday, MPs rejected a bid by Labour’s Chris Leslie to force the government to consult Parliament on the deal struck with the EU before it is finalised.

It came after ministers pledged that a “meaningful” vote would be offered.

Labour and some Tories had pushed for MPs to have a decisive say on the final terms, but the 326 to 293 vote meant the bill remained unchanged.

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