BREXIT became a step closer last night after MPs voted in favour of a bill to trigger Article 50.
They voted by 494 to 122 — a majority of 372 — in favour of allowing Theresa May to start the process that formally begins Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had imposed a three-line whip on his MPs to vote with the government but 52 defied him.
Among them was shadow business secretary Clive Lewis who resigned his position shortly before the vote and was made the bookmaker’s favourite to replace Mr Corbyn.
The Norwich South MP said: ‘I 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.’
Earlier, Corbyn aides insisted he had no plans to quit amid reports he had given his colleagues a departure date.
Last week, frontbenchers Rachel Maskell, Dawn Butler and Jo Stevens quit the shadow cabinet ahead of voting against the bill’s second reading, alongside 44 other Labour MPs.
However, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott was back on the frontbenches and voted in line with the Labour whip after she had blamed a migraine for missing a vote on the bill last week.
‘I serve at the pleasure of the leader of the party,’ she told Sky News.
The bill now goes to the House of Lords, where pro-Remain peers have vowed to push for amendments. Tory former justice minister Dominic Raab said the vote ‘sends a very powerful message to the unelected Lords that they should not try to block it’.
Once a deal has been negotiated with the EU, it will be put to Parliament to ratify — but not change.
The government also saw off a series of opposition amendments, including one demanding assurances EU nationals living here would be guaranteed the right to stay.
Mrs May had said she would make protections for EU nationals living here — and British citizens in the EU — a priority once negotiations begin.
Labour’s former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw dismissed her assurances as ‘meaningless’.
Meanwhile, Mrs May told the New Statesman that voters had shown ‘quiet resolve’ to make Britain a ‘sovereign, independent nation’.