The Article 50 bill

27 January 2017
What was claimed

The draft law that will start the process of leaving the EU has 133 words. The law enabling women to become MPs only has 70.

Our verdict

Close: the 1918 law on women MPs had 95 words. The general point that the length of a law has nothing to do with its importance is correct.

“That bill, the Article 50 bill, which is designed to do nothing more than to start the negotiating process, has 133 words and Angus [Robertson] criticises it for not having enough words. Well, the bit of legislation enabling women to become members of Parliament had 70 words in it.”

James Cleverly MP, 26 January 2017

Parliament is being asked to pass a law allowing the Prime Minister to begin the process of leaving the EU by triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill does have 133 words in it. Some are standard to any bill: the actual heart of the draft law only amounts to 50 words.

Women got the right to sit in parliament in 1918. The first woman to be elected was Constance Markievicz, for Dublin St. Patrick’s, although as an Irish republican she chose not take up her seat. American-born Nancy Astor was the first woman to actually sit in the House of Commons.

The law enabling women to become MPs comes to 95 words, by our reckoning. But the point that the length of a law is irrelevant to its importance is spot on. The Supreme Court said as much on 24 January.

But it’s not correct to say that the bill does “nothing more” than start the negotiating process. Because of the way Article 50 is designed, triggering it ends the UK’s membership once two years have passed, unless there is a negotiated deal setting another date, or the negotiations are extended.

And, technically, it doesn’t start the negotiation/exit process anyway. It just gives the Prime Minister permission to do so. Even if the bill passes in its current form, there’ll still be no legal requirement for the UK to leave.

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