Friday, 7 December 2018

Withdrawal Agreement ~ Vote deferred and other developments

A)  Committee Report 9 December

The House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee has published a report on the Government’s EU Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration.  The Report – agreed unanimously – says that the Prime Minister’s deal fails to offer sufficient clarity or certainty for the future of the UK.

See the Committee's Announcement  and the report - Progress of the UK's negotiations on EU withdrawal - The Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration

The Conclusions and Recommendations in the report express doubt that the future relationship agreement can be concluded before the end of 2020. 

"The future relationship negotiations will have to cover a far wider range of issues, including trade in goods and services, foreign policy coordination, policing and information sharing, participation in EU agencies, agriculture, fisheries, data, labour mobility and the recognition of professional
qualifications, broadcasting, intellectual property, public procurement, consumer safety, aviation, freight, energy, medicines, and scientific co-operation. Furthermore, the future relationship negotiations will be interrupted in 2019 by the European Parliament elections and the appointment of a new European Commission. The negotiations will be further complicated and could take significantly longer because the Government has still not yet set out clear objectives for the future relationship that are realistic, workable and have the support of Parliament. In addition, each of the 27 individual EU Member States, their national and, where applicable, regional Parliaments, will be able to exercise a veto on the overall outcome."

The Committee also expresses unhappiness at the Political Declaration.

"We were told throughout our scrutiny of the negotiations by successive Secretaries of State for Exiting the European Union, and by Michel Barnier and other interlocutors from the European Union, that the Political Declaration would be detailed and substantive. We deeply regret that it is neither. The document only sets out a series of options for the UK’s trade with the European Union, its closest and largest trading partner, and establishes a framework for ongoing conversations across a range of areas."

The Committee also notes that - " .... the Government’s analysis of EU exit indicates that, over a 15-year period, the UK will be economically poorer under all possible scenarios than it would have been under current arrangements ....."

The report contains a "What Happens Next" section  paragraphs 104 to 112.  

B)  Debates:

Parliament has been debating the EU Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework.  The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 section 13 begins by stating - "The withdrawal agreement may be ratified only if - " certain conditions are met.

These require the House of Commons to approve both the Agreement and Framework - section 13(1)(b)

The House of Lords does not have to approve but has been debating a motion to "take note" of the Agreement and Framework - section 13(1)(c)

Even if the House of Commons voted in favour of the agreement, legislation has to be enacted which contains provision for the implementation of the withdrawal agreement - section 13(1)(d).

The links below bring together the Hansard Online records of the debating.

Day 1 - 4 December 2018

House of Commons - first allotted day

House of Lords - Legal Position of Withdrawal Agreement

Day 2 - 5 December 2018

House of Commons - second allotted day

House of Lords - Motion to Take Note - 1st part and 2nd part

Day 3 - 6 December 2018

House of Commons - see Oral answers to questions on Exiting the EU

House of Commons - third allotted day

House of Lords - Motion to Take Note - further debate

Friday 7 December - no business in either House

Day 4 - Monday 10 December

Monday 4 December was to be the fourth allotted day for debate on the Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework.  164 MPs had spoken during ther debates on Days 1 to 3.  On any view it had become clear that the deal was not going to secure the support of the House of Commons.  The principal concern was the Ireland / Northern Ireland Protocol ("the backstop") which, if it was ever invoked, could endure indefinitely.

The Prime Minister went to the House of Commons and, in a Statement, announced that "while there is broad support for many of the key aspects of the deal, on one issue, the Northern Ireland backstop, there remains widespread and deep concern. As a result, if we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow, the deal would be rejected by a significant margin. We will therefore defer the vote scheduled for tomorrow, and will not proceed to divide the House at this time."

The Prime Minister proposed to hold further meetings with the EU with a view to securing "additional reassurance on the question of the backstop."

Following the Prime Minister's statement, the Speaker said - "Although the Government’s intention to halt the forthcoming debate at this inordinately late stage has been widely leaked to the media in advance, I felt it only appropriate to hear what is proposed before advising the House. Halting the debate, after no fewer than 164 colleagues have taken the trouble to contribute, will be thought by many Members of this House to be deeply discourteous. Indeed, in the hours since news of this intention emerged, many colleagues from across the House have registered that view to me in the most forceful terms.

Having taken the best procedural advice, colleagues should be informed that there are two ways of doing this. The first and, in democratic terms, the infinitely preferable way is for a Minister to move at the outset of the debate that the debate be adjourned. This will give the House the opportunity to express its view in a vote on whether or not it wishes the debate to be brought to a premature and inconclusive end. I can reassure Ministers that I would be happy to accept such a motion so that the House can decide.

The alternative is for the Government unilaterally to decline to move today’s business, which means not only that the House is deprived of its opportunity to vote upon the substance of the debate tomorrow but that it is given no chance to express its view today on whether the debate should or should not be allowed to continue.

I politely suggest that, in any courteous, respectful and mature environment, allowing the House to have its say on this matter would be the right and, dare I say it, the obvious course to take. Let us see if those who have assured this House and the public, over and over again, that this supremely important vote is going to take place tomorrow, without fail, wish to rise to the occasion."

See BBC News 11 December - Theresa May to meet EU leaders in bid to rescue deal
The Guardian 10 December - Desperate May dashes to continent in search for concessions

In the evening, the Leader of the Opposition was successful in securing an emergency debate to take place on Tuesday 11 December - see Hansard.  "That this House has considered the Prime Minister’s unprecedented decision not to proceed with the final two days of debate and the meaningful vote, despite the House’s Order of Tuesday 4 December 2018, and her failure to allow this House to express its view on the Government’s deal or her proposed negotiating objectives, without the agreement of this House" - see Order Paper 11 December.

Despite the Speaker's earlier remarks, MPs were denied a vote on whether the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement should be adjourned - see Hansard.

At the time of writing, it is far from clear when the House will get to the vote on the withdrawal agreement.

The House of Lords heard a statement from the government in similar terms to that of the Prime Minister - see Hansard.

Day 5 - Tuesday 11 December

This was to be the fifth allotted day for debate on the Withdrawal Agreement / Future Framework.  It was also to be the day on which the Commons would have voted but that is now deferred until some date yet to be fixed. 

A debate was held on the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018: Statutory obligations on Ministers and also the "Emergency Debate" was held - see Hansard

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