Only two days after the Supreme Court held that an Act of Parliament is required before the UK's exit from the EU can be triggered, the UK Government has presented the new European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill to Parliament.
Short and simple
As anticipated, the Bill is extremely short and simple. The operative section simply seeks a power for the Prime Minister to notify the UK's intention to withdraw from the EU pursuant to Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union.
Whether this will help curtail debate and amendment in both the House of Commons and House of Lords - essential if the UK Government is to achieve its ambitious timetable of triggering Article 50 by the end of March - remains to be seen.
What happens next?
The process of turning the Bill into an Act now begins. The standard procedure for creating a new law will have to be followed. This comprises a number of readings in the House of Commons - the first of which takes place today - along with detailed examination of the Bill by committee and a reporting stage. After the final reading, Members of Parliament vote on whether the Bill should be approved. A similar process is then followed in the House of Lords. Once passed, a Bill needs to receive Royal Assent before it becomes an Act of Parliament.
The Government has various means of forcing the pace of debate in the House of Commons, and the timetable for the report stage and final reading of the Bill is currently set at Wednesday, February 8. This is a very truncated timetable, to which the Labour Party and the SNP are already objecting. No such mechanism for controlling time exists in the House of Lords.
Notwithstanding the length of the bill, the process will inevitably provide an opportunity for a further airing of the arguments for and against leaving the EU in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Labour Party and the SNP have already said that they will be tabling amendments, the Labour Party in particular calling for regular progress reports on the exit negotiations.
The Liberal Democrats are also likely to have proposals. Some pro-remain Conservative MPs may support such amendments. Assuring the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK is likely to be on the agenda. The content of the accompanying White Paper also remains to be seen.
The outcome of the final vote on the Bill is unpredictable. Most MPs are thought to have voted for the UK to stay in the EU. That said, ultimately it will be unpalatable for either the House of Commons or the House of Lords to look like they are frustrating the outcome of the referendum, and in a House of Commons debate in December, MPs approved in principle the UK Government's timetable for triggering Article 50.