British lawmakers kicked off another three days of wrangling over Prime Minister Theresa May’s bill to launch Brexit negotiations, amid government concerns that amendments to the bill could slow it down or even scupper it completely.
The bill cleared the first hurdle easily last week, but debate is expected to get heated as members of parliament vote on dozens of proposed amendments to the two-clause bill before the House of Commons takes a final decision on Wednesday.
May warned lawmakers that "now is not the time to obstruct the democratically expressed wishes of the British people."
The warning came after eurosceptic Conservative Steve Baker said that rebels in his and May’s own party were prepared to support what he called "wrecking amendments" tabled by the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.
Baker chairs the pro-Brexit European Research Group, which is advocating that the bill pass through parliament with no changes.
He tweeted a picture of the two pages of legislation next to a substantially taller stack of amendments ahead of the debate, urging his colleagues to keep things simple.
But Ken Clarke, the only Conservative to vote against triggering Article 50 last week, hit out at the late publication of the prime minister’s white paper on Thursday, after lawmakers had already voted on the first stage of the bill.
Clarke, who was applauded by Labour colleagues during last week's debate, told the Guardian he has "never seen anything as mad or chaotic" as the government’s Brexit strategy.
Among the tabled amendments are demands for May to negotiate full access to the EU single market and guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Britain and British citizens living in the EU.
Lawmakers are also pushing to add clauses forcing May to publish quarterly progress reports on the state of negotiations and wait for a parliamentary vote to approve withdrawal from the European Economic Area.
Other proposed amendments would give May 30 days to produce reports on Britain’s plans on what to do about various joint European schemes the country is currently involved in.
These schemes include the Erasmus study exchange scheme, joint law enforcement agency Europol, the European Environment Agency and the European Food Safety Authority.
Speaking in Brussels, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson reiterated May’s message to parliamentarians.
"The crucial thing is, you'll recall, the Commons voted six to one to pass this question to the British people.
"The people voted by convincing majority to leave the EU and that is what we're going to put into effect. And it's going to be a great success."
After the vote on Wednesday, the bill will continue to the House of Lords for consideration, where it is expected to pass in time for May’s end-of-March deadline to trigger Article 50 and start negotiating Britain’s EU divorce.