Wednesday, 5 December 2018

House of Commons 4 December ~ a troubled day for the government

Tuesday 4 December 2018

On 4 December the government was held to be in contempt of the House of Commons over the failure to disclose the full withdrawal agreement legal advice given by the Attorney General to the Cabinet - previous post.

The government's timetable motion for the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement debate was approved but with a significant amendment put forward by Mr Dominic Grieve QC MP.  In the evening, the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration commenced.


4 December was also the day on which the Advocate General at the Court of Justice of the EU gave his opinion that the notification under Article 50 TEU could, with certain conditions, be unilaterally withdrawn.  The court has yet to give judgment and the AG opinion is not binding - previous post.

1)  Timetable and the Grieve amendment:

The House of Commons agreed by 321 votes to 299 a timetable for the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration.   Under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 section 13, both of those require approval by the House of Commons.

Read the debate

Debate on approval of the withdrawal agreement would take place on Tuesday 4 December, Wednesday 5 December, Thursday 6 December, Monday 10 December and Tuesday 11 December.

The Withdrawal Act section 13 sets out what is to happen in the event that the withdrawal agreement is NOT approved on 11 December.  Mr Dominic Grieve QC MP and others were concerned that any motions brought forward by the government should be amendable since, as Mr Hilary Benn MP put it it, " ... it is essential that the House of Commons has the opportunity, if the deal is voted down next Tuesday, to give itself a voice and to express a view about what happens next."

The House agreed and that is reflected in final paragraph of the motion in which the House agreed that provisions of Standing Order No. 24B (Amendments to motions to consider specified matters) will not apply in respect of any motion tabled by a Minister of the Crown pursuant to any provision of section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

2)   Withdrawal Agreement debate opened:

After agreeing the timetable, the House commenced the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement. 

The Prime Minister opened the debate by moving that the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration be agreed.  Unhappiness with the deal was clearly widespread and, in particular, with the Ireland / Northern Ireland Protocol ("backstop") even though no deal would have been possible without including backstop arrangements.  The backstop will not come into force until the end of the transition period and, even then, the UK/EU plan is that agreement on the future relationship will be in place so that the backstop is not required.  The aim of the backstop is to prevent a "hard border" between Ireland and Northern Ireland.   Such a border is likely to be inevitable in the event of a "no deal Brexit"

There are of course many reasons favouring approval of the deal.  High on that list has to be the point that a no deal Brexit on 29 March 2019 is avoided.

MPs might also do well to consider that there is no obvious appetite in the EU to either re-write the Withdrawal Agreement or to negotiate a fresh withdrawal agreement.   Realistically, the deal as it stands is the only one on the table and EU preparedness for a no deal Brexit is well advanced.

Read the debate

The government has issued a list of 40 reasons to back the Brexit deal.


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