Tuesday, 19 June 2018

EU (Withdrawal) Bill ~ update (1) - meaningful vote

The image shows the result of a House of Lords vote on 18th June 2018 on what can be called the "meaningful vote" amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.  The vote took place during the "ping pong" process.

The government had said that Parliament would have a "meaningful vote" on whether to accept or reject any Withdrawal Agreement negotiated under the Article 50 process but, even in the slippery world of politics, there has perhaps never been as meaningless a phrase as "meaningful vote."  Just what did "meaningful" mean?   It appeared to mean a vote to either accept whatever was on offer or simply leave the EU without a deal.  Some in Parliament have tried to give the phrase a more definite meaning with a view to Parliament having a greater say in the event that there are serious problems in achieving a Withdrawal Agreement.

The Withdrawal Bill as originally put to Parliament did not contain any specific provisions for such a vote.  It was a political promise only.  The Lords amended the Bill so that it included a clause requiring a vote in the House of Commons in certain specified situations.  The entire process has been very convoluted and difficult to follow in detail.

At this stage, let's look at where we are this morning - 19th June.

The Lords accepted the Government’s amendment in lieu - referred to as 19A and 19B in the List of changes (PDF). They then voted 354-235 in favour of an amendment Viscount Hailsham tabled on behalf of Dominic Grieve - this is shown in the Supplementary list of changes (PDF).  Viscount Hailsham's amendment was a "manuscript amendment" tabled on the morning of 18th June and was itself an amendment to 19A.  The manuscript amendment sought to reflect the agreement Conservative backbenchers thought they had reached with the Government on 12th June.

The outcome of all this so far is that a Withdrawal Agreement (negotiated under Article 50) can only be ratified if certain conditions are met including approval of the Agreement by resolution of the Commons.  The Lords will "take note" of the agreement.  The amended bill then goes on to specify what is to happen if the Commons were to vote against the withdrawal agreement.  In that event the government will make a statement setting out how they intend to proceed in negotiations with the EU and the Commons would have to approve the statement (Lords to "take note").

The amended bill then goes further to deal with two further possible situations:
  • If the Prime Minister makes a statement by 21st January 2019 that no agreement in principle can be reached;
  • If at the end of 21st January 2019 there is no agreement.
In either of those situations the government will have to make a statement about how they intend to proceed and the Commons would have to approve it and the Lords to take note.

Stepping away from the political controversy and some nonsensical comments in the media and elsewhere (e.g. Twitter), it appears that the Lords has has secured a binding requirement for the elected House of Commons to have a vote on the government's plans in the specifed situations.

It could probably be February 2019 by the time the Commons had such a say and, under the terms of Article 50, the UK leaves the EU on 29th March.

If there is no agreement by 21st January then the United Kingdom will find itself facing the "cliff edge" scenario of Brexit with little or no clarity as to the future.  Of necessity, Parliament would have to be involved if that arises but the bill - as it now exists - will ensure that when facing the cliff-edge there is at least a binding requirement for the House of Commons to vote on the government's plans.

This Lords amendment will return to the House of Commons on Wednesday 20th June.   No forecasts from me as to how this will go!  Also, it is entirely possible that Ministers - anxious to avoid any possibility of a government defeat - will bring forward yet more amendments in the Commons.


BBC News - 20th June

The details of the relevant amendment (and amendments of the amendments!) can be seen at:
Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords 18 June, 2018 | 18.06.2018

House of Commons Library - 19th June - Areas yet to be agreed

Institute for Government - Withdrawal Bill amendments

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