LONDON –– MPs have voted by a majority of 384 to allow Theresa May to get Brexit negotiations under way.
They backed the government’s European Union Bill, supported by the Labour leadership, by 498 votes to 114.
But the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrat leadership opposed the bill, while 47 Labour MPs and Tory ex-chancellor Ken Clarke rebelled.
The bill now faces further scrutiny in the Commons and the House of Lords before it can become law.
The prime minister has set a deadline of March 31 for invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, getting official talks with the EU started.
MPs held two days of debate on the bill, which follows last June’s referendum in which voters opted by 51.9 per cent to 48.1 per cent in favour of Brexit.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a leading Leave campaigner, called the Commons vote result “absolutely momentous”. Speaking on Facebook, he added: “We may be leaving the EU treaties. We are not leaving Europe.”
The UK would “forge a new identity” and make “an amazingly positive contribution” to Europe, he said.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, a Remain supporter, told the BBC News Channel he would work for “the best result possible” for the UK.
He added: “Simply saying that we do not accept the result of the referendum is not the way to make the fight for the future.”
Corbyn had imposed a three-line whip –– the strongest sanction at his disposal –– on his MPs to back the bill.
Shadow cabinet members Rachael Maskell and Dawn Butler quit the party’s front bench shortly before the vote, in order to defy his orders.
Also, 12 Labour frontbenchers voted against their own party position, apparently without first resigning.
One MP was heard to shout “Suicide” when the result of the vote was announced.
Earlier, the Commons voted against an SNP amendment aimed at scuppering the bill.
The bill was published last week, after the Supreme Court decided MPs and peers must have a say before Article 50 could be triggered.
It rejected the government’s argument that May had sufficient powers to trigger Brexit without consulting Parliament.
Talks with the EU are expected to last up to two years, with the UK predicted to leave the 28-member organisation in 2019.