By William James
LONDON (Reuters) - A law allowing Prime Minister Theresa May to trigger Britain's exit from the European Union is expected to clear its first legislative hurdle on Wednesday, paving the way for the government to launch divorce talks by the end of March.
May's government is seeking approval for a new law giving her the right to trigger Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty - the legal process for leaving the bloc - after the Supreme Court ruled last week that she could not take that decision unilaterally.
The bill could complete the legislative process by March 7.
May plans to begin exit negotiations with the EU by March 31, starting two years of talks that will define Britain's economic and political future and test the unity of the EU's 27 remaining members.
Lawmakers are expected to reject an attempt to throw out the bill, proposed by pro-EU Scottish nationalists, and then vote in favor of allowing it to progress to the next, more detailed, legislative stage. The first vote should take place at 1900 GMT.
The votes will come after hours of impassioned speeches in parliament that began on Tuesday, which have underlined the lingering sense of shock among the largely pro-European political establishment that 52 percent of their constituents voted to leave the EU in a referendum last year.
"I greatly fear that generations that either did not vote or are yet to come will not thank us for our great folly," Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry said in Tuesday's debate.
Despite presiding over a Conservative Party divided over staying in the EU, May, who campaigned for a 'Remain' vote, has secured almost unanimous support from her lawmakers for the legislation. That means her 16-seat parliamentary majority should be enough to see the bill progress.
The opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has also pledged his party's support for the bill at this stage, although many of his lawmakers have said they will defy him.
Labour will try to amend the bill at the next stage - due to start next week - to give parliament greater scrutiny over the Brexit talks.
For more on the amendment process see:
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)