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UK lawmakers given two weeks to debate short Brexit bill

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Prime Minister Theresa May's government will push its draft law to trigger the start of the Brexit process through the House of Commons within two weeks in a rush to stick to her March 31 deadline.

[LONDON] Prime Minister Theresa May's government will push its draft law to trigger the start of the Brexit process through the House of Commons within two weeks in a rush to stick to her March 31 deadline.

The initial debate on the tightly-drawn, 137-word bill published Thursday will start in the lower chamber of Parliament on Jan 31, with a vote the following day. The government wants to limit the possibility of amendments by opposition lawmakers and pro-EU members of the ruling Conservative Party.

"I trust that Parliament, which backed the referendum by six to one, will respect the decision taken by the British people and pass the legislation quickly," Brexit Secretary David Davis said in an e-mailed statement.

Mrs May was forced into action when the Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that she does not have the authority to formally initiate Brexit without the permission from lawmakers. Invoking Article 50 is the formal mechanism for beginning the two-year divorce process and starting talks on a new relationship with the other 27 members of the EU.

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The draft legislation contains only two clauses, giving the prime minister the power to tell the EU that the UK is leaving: "The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom's intention to withdraw from the EU".

Opposition lawmakers complained that the time allotted to debate the bill is far too short. Labour's David Lammy said on Twitter that it "shows contempt for parliamentary sovereignty" while his colleague colleague Ben Bradshaw called it "a disgrace". More detailed debate on the law will begin on Monday, Feb 6, with the final vote in the Commons on Wednesday, Feb 8. The bill will then go to the upper, unelected House of Lords.

It's been a week of concessions for Mrs May.  In a further climbdown, Mrs May announced Wednesday that she will publish her plan for Brexit after six months of trying to keep the details under wraps.

Thursday for when the so-called white paper will be released, Brexit Secretary Mr Davis said only that ministers would be "as expeditious as we can be".

While Parliament is unlikely to vote against the draft law - few lawmakers want to be seen to be blocking the result of the Brexit referendum - it does give an opening for pro-EU lawmakers to add terms and conditions.

Mrs May has only a slender majority of 16 votes in the 650-member Commons.

The main opposition Labour Party's Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, told lawmakers he plans to put forward an amendment requiring the government to provide Parliament with updates every two months on the negotiations on a new deal with the EU.

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