Meaningful vote: procedures, procedures



They say a week is a long time in politics, but in Brexit land, even 24 hours can feel like an eternity. From proposals on a backstop to the backstop, to Raab flying to Brussel on Sunday in attempt to resolve the latest impasse in the negotiations, the past week has seen very little actual progress to finalise a withdrawal agreement. There is still no agreement on the backstop, there are still no majority for any sort of deal in Parliament and Theresa May hangs on by a thread.

What was meant to be the summit that would see a deal being in principle agreed, turned out to be, well, another summit where there’s been little movement on actually reaching a deal. The most significant development is that the EU has said it will cancel the emergency November summit.The EU then hopes that an agreement can be reached in December. May has alluded to a possible extension of the transition period - this is something which the EU has confirmed they are happy to do, but has gone down like a cup of cold sick in Westminster.

Although it feels like the can has been kicked down the road yet again, both European Council president Donald Tusk, and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, said they were optimistic a deal could be reach during Thursday’s press conference in Brussels.

Meaningful vote: procedures, procedures  

Even if a deal is eventually reached, there is by no means a guarantee that May will actually get it through Parliament. It is clear that the Government is indeed concerned about possible amendments to the vote on the final deal.

If you cast your mind to back when the EU Withdrawal Act was being debated in Parliament- one of the most contentious issues was whether MPs would get a ‘meaningful vote’ or simply a choice between accepting whatever deal May comes back with, or crashing out with no deal . The real battle come to fore when the Bill came back to the Commons, after the Lords had voted through an amendment which would enable MPs to give a binding direction to the Government in the event of a no deal or if Parliament rejected the deal.

The Government resisted this amendment tooth and nail, but were forced to come up with a compromise amendment which is what became section 13- ‘parliamentary approval of of the outcome of negotiations with the EU’. This section sets out that the Withdrawal Agreement may only be ratified if Parliament approves it.

If Parliament decides not to pass the motion to approve the deal or if there’s no deal by 21 January 2019, a minister must then make arrangements for the Commons to vote on a motion in ‘neutral terms’ on what the Government does next. The big question during the debate was whether this motion is amendable, because a motion in ‘neutral terms’ is not amendable. At the time, the Government published a written statement confirming that it the role of the Speaker to determine whether such a motion is in fact amendable.

On Wednesday this week, the ‘meaningful vote’ issue was raised again. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab’s responsed to a letter from Charles Walker, Conservative MP and chair of to the Procedure Committee. This appeared to signal that the Government will want to prevent any amendments to the meaningful vote. This would leave Parliament facing a choice between the deal May brings back, or crashing out with no deal.

Raab issued a stark warning in the letter to MPs: “anything other than a straightforward approval of the deal will bring with it huge uncertainty for business, consumers and citizens”. A somewhat vague and confusing memorandum from the Government attached to the letter did state that the motion will in fact be amendable, but if a motion to approve the withdrawal agreement is amended it may restrain the Government’s ability to ratify the agreement.  It seems the Government would rather that Parliament first vote on the motion unamenmend and if the deal is rejected, MPs will then vote on amendments- rather than the other way around which would see MPs voting on amendments first and if any amendments passed, vote on the motion as amended.

Following Raab’s response, the Procedure Committee have launched an inquiry and invites written submissions on the issues the meaningful vote raises for the House of Commons’ usual procedures for decisions on amendable motions. The deadline is tight- submissions must be made by the 23rd October. More info here.

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