EU Withdrawal Bill: What are MPs voting on and when?

EU Withdrawal Bill: What are MPs voting on and when?

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill returns to the Commons today and tomorrow, with the Government scheduling two days to debate and vote principally on the removal of most of the 15 amendments on which it was defeated in the House of Lords (14 at Report Stage and one at Third Reading). But will the Government be able to reverse them all, or will it face rebellions in the Commons too? We will find out over the next two days.

The debate is split into three parts, with two three-hour sessions (each followed by voting) on Tuesday 12th June, and one six-hour session followed by voting on Wednesday 13th June. While there are in fact 196 amendments in total (full list here), most of these are minor technical changes to wording of the Bill added by the Government in the Lords and are expected to be nodded through without a vote in the Commons. Although the 4 Plaid Cymru MPs have indicated their opposition to a number of the technical changes concerning devolution, they are unlikely to be put to a vote.

Here BrexitCentral takes you through all of the key amendments, grouped in the order they will be debated and voted on, and with the most hotly contested amendments highlighted in red:

TUESDAY 12TH JUNE FIRST SESSION

Amendments 110 (scrutiny); 37, 39, 125 (Exit Day); 19 (‘meaningful vote’); 52 (challenges to retained EU law); 10,43, 45 (scrutiny); 20 (future negotiations)

Amendments 110; 10, 43, 45 (scrutiny)

  • These amendments concern the circumstances in which the Government is able to use the secondary legislation powers granted by the Bill.
  • Moved by Lord Lisvane
  • Passed by 225-194 (no. 110) and 349-221 (10, 43, 45) in the Lords, majorities of 31 and 128 respectively.
  • The Government will oppose these amendments in the Commons.

> UPDATE: Amendment 110 rejected by 324-302, Government majority of 22

> UPDATE: Amendment 128 (similar to 110) rejected by 325-304, Government majority of 21

> UPDATE: Amendment 10 rejected by 320-305, Government majority of 15

> UPDATE: Amendment 43 rejected by 322-306, Government majority of 16

> UPDATE: Amendment 45 rejected by 317-306, Government majority of 11

Amendments 37, 39, 125 (Exit Day): These amendments would undo the compromise amendment backed by Dominic Grieve during Committee Stage in the Commons. They would give the Lords an effective veto over Brexit by removing 29th March 2019 from the Bill altogether and giving them the power to block the Government from setting a date for ‘exit day’ indefinitely.

  • Moved by the Duke of Wellington.
  • Passed by 311-233 in the Lords, majority of 78.
  • The Government will oppose these amendments in the Commons.

> UPDATE: Amendment 37 rejected by 326-301, Government majority of 25

> UPDATE: Amendment 39 rejected by 324-302, Government majority of 22

> UPDATE: Amendment 125 rejected by 328-297, Government majority of 31

Amendment 19 (‘meaningful vote’): This amendment has the potential to completely derail the UK’s negotiations with the EU by giving the Lords an effective veto over any deal negotiated by Theresa May with the European Union. This would leave the UK completely hamstrung in the negotiations as it would give the EU no incentive to offer the UK anything other than the worst possible deal, as they could rely on the heavily pro-EU House of Lords to reject any deal until the EU got the deal it wanted. It would also be constitutionally unprecedented for Parliament to seek to bind the Government in advance of a negotiation in this way.

  • Moved by Lord Hailsham of moat-cleaning fame.
  • Passed by 335-244 in the Lords, majority of 91.
  • The Government has proposed a compromise counter-amendment in lieu of amendment 19, which would preserve the House of Commons’ meaningful vote over the deal but remove the House of Lords’ power to veto it indefinitely.
  • Tory MP Dominic Grieve has tabled a last-minute amendment to the Government’s amendment which prescribes different courses of action depending on whether or not a deal has been agreed by the end of November of the middle of February. However, it still comes with almost all the same flaws as the original Lords’ amendment as it would create a hard threshold of 15 February 2019 after which the EU would be able to force the worst possible deal on the UK.

> UPDATE: Amendment 19 rejected by 324-298, Government majority of 26

> UPDATE: Government counter-amendments 19A and 19B accepted without a vote. Further Government compromise amendment expected in the Lords. 

In addition, the Liberal Democrats have tabled a further amendment to amendment 19, which tries to leave the door open to the possibility of the Commons forcing a second referendum, although it is not clear that it would actually have any legal effect. While it has support from a handful of Labour MPs including Owen Smith, Mike Gapes and Catherine West, it will not be supported by the Labour frontbench and has no chance of succeeding. Indeed, there were groans around the Chamber last time Tom Brake moved a similar second referendum amendment to a division when there was no prospect of it succeeding.

Amendment 52 (challenges to retained EU law):

  • This amendment is a fairly technical change involving potential legal challenges to retained EU law after Brexit.
  • Moved by Liberal Democrat Lord Beith.
  • Passed by 285-235 in the Lords, majority of 50.
  • The Government will oppose this amendment in the Commons (but is proposing a modified version of the related Amendment 53 on Wednesday).

> UPDATE: Amendment 52 rejected by 326-301, Government majority of 25

Amendment 20 (future negotiations): This amendment would prevent the Government from implementing the Withdrawal Agreement until after it had secured a “mandate for negotiations about the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the EU” from Parliament. This would potentially risk a legal cliff edge, although it is unclear how this amendment would even function in practice, since some negotiations on the future relationship have already been taking place for months, and the Article 50 negotiations require the UK and the EU to agree at least a framework for the future relationship as part of the Withdrawal Agreement itself before it is signed and implemented.

  • Moved by Lord Monks, former General Secretary of the Brussels-based European Trade Union Confederation, a “social partner” organisation of the European Commission.
  • Passed by 270-233 in the Lords, majority of 37.
  • The Government will oppose this amendment in the Commons.

> UPDATE: Amendment 20 rejected by 321-305, Government majority of 16

TUESDAY 12TH JUNE SECOND SESSION

Amendment 25 (Northern Ireland): This amendment introduces a number of restrictions on the government relating to the Northern Ireland border. Passed by 309-242 in the Lords. While it seeks to enshrine support for the Belfast Agreement in the Bill, the language used goes much further than the Agreement itself and would give the Irish Government an effective veto over any deal agreed with the EU.

  • Moved by former European Commissioner Lord Patten.
  • Passed by 309-242 in the Lords, majority of 75.
  • The Government has tabled a counter-amendment which modifies some of the text of the Patten amendment and introduces a direct reference to the Belfast Agreement instead.

> UPDATE: Government counter-amendment accepted without a vote

WEDNESDAY 13TH JUNE SESSION

Amendments 1, 2 (Customs Union); 51 (EEA); 5 (Charter of Fundamental Rights); 53 (challenges to retained EU Law); 4 (enhanced EU law protection); 3 (environment); 24 (child refugees); 32 (ongoing relationship)

Amendments 1, 2 (Customs Union): These amendments seek to force the UK to negotiate a continued customs union with the EU. After Labour U-turned on their customs union policy earlier this year, this vote was expected to be very tight, but the Government appears to have a found a last-minute compromise which has secured the support of key Leavers including Sir Bill Cash and Jacob Rees-Mogg and key Remainers including Nicky Morgan and Stephen Hammond.

  • Moved by Lord Kerr, a former diplomat who was involved in the drafting of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty.
  • Passed by 348-225 in the Lords, majority of 123.
  • The Government has tabled a counter-amendment which changes the wording from a customs “union” to a customs “arrangement”.

Amendment 51 (EEA): This amendment, supported by many Labour peers in the Lords in defiance of the party leadership, seeks to keep the UK in the EU single market by forcing the government to negotiate a deal that keeps the UK in the European Economic Area (which includes countries like Norway, which are part of the single market but don’t have a customs union with the EU). The Labour frontbench has submitted an amendment to the amendment, instead calling for the UK to retain “full access to the internal [single] market of the European Union…” This means there could be two votes on the differently worded amendments, although neither is expected to succeed.

  • Moved by Labour peer Lord Alli
  • Passed by 245-218 in the Lords, majority of 27.
  • The Government will oppose this amendment in the Commons.
  • Labour have submitted a counter-amendment in the Commons.

Amendment 5 (Charter of Fundamental Rights):

  • This would preserve the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law after Brexit, even though this move has been strongly criticised by a number of former senior judges who backed Remain. The Charter’s functioning is heavily dependent upon EU membership and the European Court of Justice, so it is not clear how it would function effectively in the UK after Brexit.
  • Moved by Lord Pannick, lead lawyer for Gina Miller in the Article 50 court case.
  • Passed by 316-245 in the Lords, majority of 71.
  • The Government will oppose this motion in Commons.

Amendment 53 (challenges to retained EU law):

  • Another more technical amendment, similar to amendment 52, relating to legal challenges on the basis of the ‘general principles’ of EU law after Brexit. The Government has proposed an amendment in lieu which accepts the measures called for in the amendment but would limit their operation to three years after Exit Day.
  • Also moved by Lord Pannick
  • Passed by 280-223 in the Lords, majority of 57.
  • The Government have sumitted a counter-amendment which accepts the amendment itself but sets a cut-off date of three years after Brexit, after which any such arrangements would cease to apply.

Amendment 4 (scrutiny):

  • This amendment would require the Government to submit to an enhanced scrutiny procedure if they attempt to amend or repeal any EU law relating to issues such as health and safety or equality entitlements.
  • Moved by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, Labour Brexit spokesperson in the Lords.
  • Passed by 314-217 in the Lords, majority 97.
  • The Government will oppose this amendment.

Amendment 3 (environment):

  • This amendment calls on the government to implement an environmental policy that maintains EU environmental principles and standards.
  • Moved by Lord Krebs.
  • Passed by 294-244 in the Lords, majority 50.
  • The Government has submitted a counter-amendment which effectively accepts the original amendment, while making a few technical modifications to the precise wording.

Amendment 24 (child refugees):

  • This amendment calls on the Government to seek to negotiate a continuation of the right of unaccompanied child refugees in the EU to join relatives in another member state.
  • Moved by Lord Dubs.
  • Passed by 205-181 in the Lords, majority 24.
  • The Government has submitted a counter-amendment which agrees with the principle of the amendment but adds a condition that the relevant relatives would have to be living lawfully in the UK.

Amendment 32 (ongoing relationship):

  • This amendment seeks to “ensure that the act will not prevent the UK from replicating EU law made after exit day in UK law and from continuing to participate in EU agencies after exit day.” It’s not clear why the Bill would have done that anyway, so this amendment is largely seen as superfluous.
  • Moved by the Bishop of Leeds.
  • Passed by 298 to 227 votes.
  • The Government will accept the amendment in the Commons.

Once the House of Commons has finished considering all the Lords’ amendments, the Bill will return to the House of Lords again next Monday, where the Lords have to choose whether to accept the wishes of the elected chamber (and the British public). If not, further rounds of ‘ping-pong’ over the Bill will ensue until the Commons and the Lords can both agree on the same version of the Bill. After that happens, the Bill will finally receive Royal Assent from the Queen and be written into law as a full Act of Parliament.