The end of Brexit Groundhog Day? The meaningful vote on the 11th December



This week saw the end of speculating when the meaningful vote will be with aletter from Chief Whip Julian Smith published on Monday confirming that the Commons vote on whether to approve the Brexit deal will take place on 11th December. 

On Wednesday the government published the parliamentary process (i.e. Business of the House motion) for the ‘meaningful vote’. It follows some of the recommendations set out in the Procedure Committee’ report (which we’ve briefly summarised here) but not all the recommendations.

Essentially, this is what the Business of the House motion sets out: 

1. Amendments to the main motion will be taken first, up to six amendments can be selected 
2. The debates on the meaningful vote will last five days and shall take place on: 

  • Tuesday 4th December 

  • Wednesday 5th December 

  • Thursday 6th December 

  • Monday 10th December 

  • Tuesday 11th December (when amendments and the main deal will be voted on)

Recommend reading this blog for the sorts om amendments that the Commons could table.

The Government has refused to publish full legal advice of the Brexit deal and will instead only give MPs “full, reasoned position statement” ahead of the meaningful vote. Whilst this conforms with a statement made in the House by cabinet office secretary David Lidington it falls short of what the Commons motion demanded, which set e Government must publish the full legal advice provided by the Attorney General on the proposed withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship
More info here

So what happens if the Commons reject the deal? The EU Withdrawal Act sets out that a minister must, within 21 days, make a written statement on how the government proposes to proceed. The government would then have a further 7 days to move a motion in the Commons, allowing MPs to express their opinion on the government’s next steps. The motion, in ‘neutral terms’, would probably not be amendable, nor would it stop the UK to leave the EU without a deal in March 2019. However the statement and motion could follow shortly after a first defeat  - in other words it is possible this that a second attempt could  happen before Christmas recess.

But the real date is January 21st as this is the very last cut-off date for a deal to be presented to Parliament under UK law. If no withdrawal agreement by then the Prime Minister must make a statement to the House and within a fortnight, the House of Commons would be given the opportunity to vote on the government’s plans. The requirement on the government to propose a new way forward could see a number of scenarios emerging, for instance: 

  • Parliament may vote a second time on whether to approve the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the Future Relationship (either on the same deal or perhaps a slightly tweaked one, particularly in the political declaration): If the deal is rejected again it will inevitably be political turmoil- Theresa May could resign, face a leadership contest or call a general election or a second referendum. 

  • A second referendum (which will require extension of Article 50): more MPs may be convinced that the a second referendum is the only way to break the parliamentary deadlock

  • A general election: With the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) this is highly unlikely as a two thirds majority of the Commons or 464 MPs is needed to call a general election OR a simple majority must pass a specifically worded no confidence motion in the government. This would then be followed by a two week period to allow for an alternative government to be formed - if no alternative found then a general election follows. SO a general election cannot be the result of the rejection of any Bill or even a lost vote on the Budget. May could of course just overturn the FTPA if she really wanted to hang up her boots but that could take months and months

  • A No Deal Brexit: While Theresa May refused to rule out a No Deal Brexit during yesterday’s grilling at the Liaison Committee and by law, the UK exits the EU on 29th March 2019, there are opportunities for Parliament to stop a No Deal from happening. Labour has tabled an amendment to main motion which sets out that the Commons ‘declines to approve the United Kingdom’s leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement’. 

As we’ve said for months, the only certainty is uncertainty. But all eyes on 11th December for the next stages of this Brexit drama.

Alliance briefing on the Withdrawal Agreement & Political Declaration 

Read our latest briefing, written by Victor Anderson, which focus on what is in the current withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on the future relationship, and the implications for civil society organisations.


Legislating for Brexit: Parliament is being written out of the process 

As the drama continues to swirl around UK's withdrawal from the EU, the government is using domestic Brexit legislation as the perfect opportunity to seize unfettered law making powers. 

The government has so far announced a total of 12 Brexit bills. Some cover areas where significant policy changes are expected (agriculture and fisheries) or areas that were previously governed by the EU (customs or trade). The bills that have either received Royal Assent or are currently being debated in Parliament all contain delegated powers, many of which are Henry VIII powers.

The sovereignty of Parliament was a central theme in the EU referendum and a promise was made that Parliament would ‘take back control of our own laws’. Yet, several pieces of Brexit legislation show that control of lawmaking will not rest with Parliament after we leave the EU. Instead, the executive and ministers have been given almost unprecedented powers to change laws, without proper parliamentary scrutiny. This undermines both parliamentary sovereignty and accountable law making.  

Read more in our latest blog here.
Read our briefing to parliamentarians here

Report by the Environmental, Food & Rural Affairs Committee: Scrutiny of the Agriculture Bill 

This week, the Environmental, Food & Rural Affairs Committee published its report on the Agriculture Bill, which was introduced to the Commons in September. The Committee is calling on the government to accept its amendment to the Agriculture Bill. The amendment sets out that food products imported as part of any future trade deal should meet or exceed British standards relating to production, animal welfare and the environment. 

The report also raise concern about the scope of the delegated powers and the lack of duties placed on ministers in the Agriculture Bill. As the report cites,Sustain has highlighted that: 
 At present, the Bill contains no requirement, nor any timeline, for the
Secretary of State to act on many of the issues such as enforcing supply
chain fairness. It provides powers to act not duties. This leaves much of it
vulnerable to political priorities. There need to be amendments relating to

Read the evidence submitted by Sustain here.
Read the report from the Environmental,  Food & Rural Affairs Committee here

May confirms delay to immigration White Paper 

On Thursday 28th November Theresa May confirmed before the Liaison Committee that the White Paper on the long awaited Immigration Bill will not be published before the meaningful vote. The delay seems to be caused by internal cabinet disagreement on Theresa May’s 'clampdown on low-skilled immigration post-Brexit' policy.

And in other news..

The CEO of Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, an Alliance member, has a letter  in the Herald: 

"The priorities of Scotland’s charities are clear: a deal that protects human rights underpinned by EU laws; guarantees on funding that organisations rely on and a commitment that EU citizens can continue to live, study, work, volunteer and contribute in Scotland. These have been our guiding principles from the outset and, for us, any deal that fails to meet these requirements shouldn’t be supported".

Read it here

Bradford roundtable: Brexit & Civil Society 

In partnership with CNet, we are hosting a roundtable discusison on what Brexit means for civil society in Bradford on the 3rd December.  Our goal is to bring civil society and relevant stakeholders together to network and share information- the roundtable discussion will also be an opportunity to express thoughts and concerns about Brexit's impact on your organisation. More info and sign up here


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