BRITAIN'S MPs have given Prime Minister Theresa May the green light to start the Brexit process - but her victory was overshadowed by Nicola Sturgeon's shock demand for a second independence referendum for Scotland hours earlier.
The Prime Minister finally won her long battle to trigger the Article 50 exit notice on her terms when a threatened Conservative revolt in the House of Commons melted away.
Two Lords amendments - guaranteeing the rights of three million EU nationals in Britain, and giving MPs a 'meaningful vote' on the outcome of the negotiations - were thrown out with large majorities.
It paved the way for the Article 50 Bill to get Royal Assent early yesterday, with the Lords expected to cave in.
However, earlier yesterday Ms May was rocked by the referendum demands from Ms Sturgeon, the Scottish National Party Leader in the UK Parliament and the First Minister of Scotland.
The demands signal a fresh constitutional battle over Scotland's future. Ms Sturgeon accused Ms May of blocking Scotland's desire for a special deal with the EU and said the referendum should be held in 18-24 months.
No.10 announced Ms May would not, as widely expected, trigger Article 50 yesterday, instead suggesting it would take place in the final week of March. Downing Street denied any wobble, or that the Prime Minister was immediately confronting the SNP with the union of the United Kingdom so obviously at stake.
Her spokesman insisted the stated policy had always been to start Brexit "at the end of March”, but many senior figures in Europe had also anticipated Article 50 would be invoked this week.
The day of drama began when Ms Sturgeon called a media conference to warn that Ms May's Brexit strategy made a second referendum all but inevitable. She accused Ms May of refusing to discuss full Scottish access to the single market, saying: "The UK Government has not moved even an inch in pursuit of compromise and agreement”.
Buoyed by opinion polls putting the Yes vote almost neck and neck with No supporters, Ms Sturgeon added, "Our efforts at compromise have instead been met with a brick wall of intransigence”.
Ms May accused Ms Sturgeon of playing a game.
Former Attorney-General Dominic Grieve insisted the law would not allow MPs to be bypassed, after the Supreme Court ruling that ministers cannot remove rights from British citizens without the authority of Parliament. "I can promise them, if they don't follow proper constitutional process, there will be litigation - and that litigation will hold matters up,” Mr Grieve warned ministers.
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