Thursday 10 January 2019

Shenanigans in the Commons as the 'meaningful vote' comes closer

The House of Commons debate on the EU Withdrawal Agreement / Future Relationship commenced on 4 December 2018 and continued on 5 and 6 December.  On 10 December,  the government deferred the vote - (details in this previous post).  The government had realised that it was in danger of losing the vote and wished to seek further assurances from the EU regarding, in particular, the Ireland / Northern Ireland backstop.

On 9 January, a revised timetable was agreed by the House of Commons requiring debate on 9, 10 and 11 January and then, after the weekend, on 14 and 15 January.  The vote is now expected to take place on Tuesday 15 January.

How this revised timetable came about is of some interest and presented to the world further House of Commons procedural shenanigans! 
The government sought to "vary" the business motion of 4 December 2018.

Under the House of Commons' arcane procedural rules it appears that a business motion is not amendable and it was thought by many MPs that the government's "variation" would also not be amendable.  {The procedural issues are discussed by Jack Simson Caird on the Verfassungsblog - Brexit and the Speaker of the House of Commons: Do the Ends Justify the Means?}.

According to the Speaker there is a distinction between a business motion and a variation of a business motion.  The latter is amendable.   The points of order raised on this may be read in Hansard - Here.   The Speaker successfully stood his ground and the outcome was a revised timetable for debate (accepted 308 to 297) which contains a new clause:

'7)  In the event of the motion under Section 13(1)(b) being negatived or amended so as to be negatived, a Minister of the Crown shall table within three sitting days a motion under Section 13, considering the process of exiting the European Union under Article 50.'

Leaving aside all the argument about Commons procedure, if the deal is rejected by the Commons on 15 January, the government will have to state how it intends to proceed by Monday 21 January.  The EU (Withdrawal) Act section 13(4)  requires the government to respond within 21 days to rejection of the deal but that is obviously a maximum period

This outcome does not appear to be unreasonable in all the circumstances.  The government can hardly argue that a rejection of the deal was unexpected.  After all, it deferred the December vote exactly because it was concerned about losing the vote and some form of "Plan B" ought therefore to be ready.

What will happen?

Forecasts are a risky business and I am not making one!  The jury is still out. 

Rejection of the deal continues to appear likely and there appears to be no appetite in Parliament for a 'no deal departure' from the EU.

If that is correct then the choices left seem to come to:
  • Request an extension of Article 50 to put the question back to the people in a further referendum
  • Request an extension of Article 50 to enable negotiation of some alternative arrangement
  • Revoke the Article 50 notification and remain in the EU.
Neither a further referendum nor a re-negotiation can realistically be achieved in the time remaining to 29 March and therefore an extension of article 50 would be necessary but there is no guarantee that the EU will agree to a request for an extension.  Unanimous agreement in the EU Council is required.  It is also far from clear whether the EU would be open to alternative proposals which, depending on content, could require lengthy negotiation.

*** On-going Debate ***

Links to Allotted Days 1 to 4 are in this previous post

After dealing with all the procedural questions the House resumed the debate on the deal - Debate 9 January (Allotted Day 5).   One useful contribution was by Sir Vince Cable who spoke about leaving on WTO terms.  Those who think that is a good idea are well advised to think again in the light of this contribution.

Debate on Thursday 10 January:

Hansard 10 January - Allotted Day 6

Debate on Friday 11 January:

Hansard 11 January - Allotted Day 7

Other material:

Institute for Government 10 January - Brexit's future is in John Bercow's hands - Parliament is now at war with government and it is winning 

Institute for Government - Prime Minister should publish Withdrawal Agreement Bill now

Spinning Hugo - The path to Brexit disaster  .....  What are the alternatives to May's deal?

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