Monday, 28 January 2019

House of Commons - Brexit debate 29 January - Updated post

Post updated 30 January

With only 60 days remaining until "Exit Day" (29 March 2019), efforts are underway in the House of Commons to bring about changes to the government's stance on three key points.  First, that the way to avoid the Ireland backstop is for MPs to accept the deal on the table even though it was heavily rejected on 15 January.  Second, the government insists that a no deal exit will not be ruled out.  Third, there will be no extension of Article 50.

On Tuesday 29 January,
according to this House of Commons Order Paper, the House will consider a motion put forward by the Prime Minister and also amendments put forward to that motion.  The Speaker chooses the amendments to be put to a vote.

The Prime Minister's motion:

That this House, in accordance with the provisions of section 13(6)(a) and 13(11)(b)(i) and 13(13)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, has considered the Written Statement titled “Statement under Section 13(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018” and made on 21 January 2019, and the Written Statement titled “Statement under Section 13(11)(a) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018”and made on 24 January.

Written Statement titled “Statement under Section 13(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018” and made on 21 January 2019

Written Statement titled “Statement under Section 13(11)(a) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018”and made on 24 January

Amendments:

The Prime Minister's motion is expressed in neutral terms and became amendable because the House decided on 4 December 2018 to disapply Standing Order 24B - i.e. "Where, in the opinion of the Speaker or the Chair, a motion, That this House, or, as the case may be, the committee has considered the matter, is expressed in neutral terms, no amendments to it may be tabled." 

At the time of writing a significant number of amendments - (a) to (n) - have been tabled and there are also some amendments to amendments ! 

Some amendments are straightforward.  
 
Amendment (letter i) would simply add words at the end of the PM's motion - "and rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship."  If accepted there would be a clear statement that the House did not favour a no deal Brexit.

Amendment (j) would add the words - "and, in the event that the House of Commons has not passed a resolution approving the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union(Withdrawal) Act 2018 by 26 February 2019, requires the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the period of two years specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union.”  The EU Council would have to unanimously agree to an extension.

Other amendments are somewhat more complex.

Amendment (a) - set down by the Leader of the Opposition - leave out from “House” to end and add “requires ministers to secure sufficient time for the UK Parliament to consider and vote on options to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a ratified Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, and that those options should include: (i) Negotiating changes to the draft Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration so as to secure a permanent customs union with the EU, a strong relationship with the single market underpinned by shared institutions and obligations, and dynamic alignment on rights and standards, in order to command a majority in the House of Commons; (ii) Legislating to hold a public vote on a deal or a proposition that has commanded the support of the majority of the House of Commons.”  If successful this would be a rewriting of the Prime Minister's motion and would almost certainly require an Article 50 extension to achieve further negotiations and agreement.

Amendment (b) is a lengthy amendment seeking to get a second reading on 5 February 2019 of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 3) Bill.  This is a Private Members' Bill sponsored by Yvette Cooper MP and which seeks to secure an extension to 31 December 2019 of Article 50.  The Bill would require the government to seek such an extension if the House of Commons has not approved a deal by 26 February 2019.  The Bill would have to become law very quickly to achieve its intended effect.  Given the number of Brexit-related government Bills before Parliament it is unlikely that the No.3 Bill will be successful.  Time will tell.

Amendment (c) is aimed at seeking a "People's Vote".  It states - " leave out from “House” to end and add “instructs the Government to take all necessary steps to rule out a no-deal scenario and prepare for a People’s Vote in which the public will have the option to remain in the European Union on the ballot paper.”  That is a complete rewriting of the motion and is perhaps unlikely to be chosen but, if it is selected, it would allow the House to express a clear view about "no-deal" as an option.

Amendment (f) calls on the government to hold a series of indicative votes on the options set out in the Exiting the EU Committee's 11th Report (para 15-19) where 4 options are set out - (1) further negotiations on the deal; (2) a no deal exit; (3) renegotiation to achieve a specified objective such as a Canad-style deal, or (4) a second referendum.

Amendment (h) contains the idea of a Citizens' Assembly of 250 people to make recommendations to the House of Commons.  Given the limited time prior to Exit Day (29 March 2019) this seems to have very limited prospects of finding favour with MPs and, if it did, there are obvious problems such as settling the terms of reference and selection of the membership.

Amendment (n) - would add at the end of the motion - “and requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border; supports leaving the European Union with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change.”. It does not specify what those alternative arrangements might be and, as we know, the EU has been both insistent and consistent that any withdrawal deal must contain a backstop arrangement to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.   This amendment was tabled by Dr Andrew Murrison MP and Sir Graham Brady MP and it is thought that the government is supportive of the amendment because it appears to be their only hope of winning MPs' backing for the withdrawal agreement - Sky News 29 January.

One hard reality is that,  however Westminster votes on 29 January, any proposed changes to the withdrawal agreement will have to be negotiated with, and agreed by, the EU. 

The debate and voting on Tuesday 29 January will, at least, enable the House of Commons to express its views and if a clear position emerges there will be political pressure on the government to adhere to the view of the House.

Update 29 January:

House of Lords 28 January - the Lords voted 283 Content to 131 Not Content with the motion - see the debate.

See the Order Paper for 29 January.  The amendments appear at pages 6 to 21 of this Order Paper and further amendments (o), (p) and (q) have been added.

The Guardian 29 January - Full list of amendments 

The amendments selected for voting are -
  • A: Labour’s
  • O: The SNP’s
  • G: Dominic Grieve’s
  • B: Yvette Cooper’s
  • J: Rachel Reeves’
  • I: Caroline Spelman’s
  • N: Graham Brady’s
If the Labour motion (A)  is passed, the SNP’s one (O) will fall (that is, it will not be put to a vote). And if the Cooper amendment (B) is passed, the Reeves one (J) will fall.

Outcome:

The debate may be read via Hansard Online - HERE.

A failed (327 to 296). O failed (327 to 39).  G failed (321 to 301).  B failed (321 to 298).  J failed (322 to 290).

I succeeded (318 to 310) - a narrow result in favour of rejecting a no deal Brexit.

N succeded (317 to 301) - add “and requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border; supports leaving the European Union with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change.”

The motion as amended therefore reads -

That this House, in accordance with the provisions of section 13(6)(a) and 13(11)(b)(i) and 13(13)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, has considered the Written Statement titled “Statement under Section 13(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018” and made on 21 January 2019, and the Written Statement titled “Statement under Section 13(11)(a) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018” and made on 24 January 2019, and rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship, and requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border; supports leaving the European Union with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change.


Hence, the House wishes to see changes to the withdrawal agreement regarding the backstop and also rejects a no deal Brexit.  The Prime Minister, in a point of order following the voting, said that the government would seek legally binding changes to the backstop; strengthen protection for workers' rights; and engage the House further in the approach to negotiating the future partnership with the EU.  The Prime Minister also reiterated the view that, although the House is against a no deal Brexit, simply opposing it will not stop it.  A deal agreed by the House will be required.

Reaction from the EU is obviously awaited but the immediate reaction is not encouraging - BBC News 30 January.  Workable proposals will be required from the UK if progress is to be made.  None of the voting today contains specific proposals and reference was made only to "alternative arrangements."  It is far from clear what such alternative arrangements might be.  On this see The Guardian 29 January - The Malthouse compromise: Everything you need to know

The debate may be read via Hansard Online - HERE.

Media etc:

Politics.co.uk - Ian Dunt 29 January - Amendment-apocalypse: Spineless MPs just voted against reality

BBC News 30 January

BBC - How did your MP vote? 

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