Over past weeks, it has become increasingly apparent that the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the Future Relationship negotiated by the Prime Minister are unlikely to obtain majority support in the House of Commons today.
During those weeks, a number of MPs across various parties have been working together to secure amendments to the procedures established by the EU Withdrawal Act 2018. Some of these amendments have also involved adjusting the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, so far as they relate to the operation of the Withdrawal Act.
Some of the MPs working on this are strong supporters of the PM’s deal. Others will be voting against the deal today. But all of the MPs involved are united in the belief that a no deal Brexit in our current state of preparedness would be against the national interest.
The combined effect of the changes to procedure that have been secured by these MPs is that, if the PM’s deal fails to obtain a majority today, then:
1. By 21 January, the Government will need to set out its plan B in a motion.
2. This motion will be amendable.
3. Amendments to the motion may, within certain limits, further adjust Standing Orders in such a way as to affect the handling of parliamentary business relating to the Withdrawal Act 2018.
Against this background, a cross-party group of MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit are intending to lay an amendment to the Government’s motion when it is debated on (or before) 21 January.
If this amendment secures a majority, it will give parliamentary time for an EU Withdrawal (No. 2) Bill to be programmed, taking precedence over Government business. It will also provide for the tabling of an accompanying Business of the House Motion.
The purpose of the Business of the House Motion will be to schedule all Commons stages of the EU Withdrawal (No. 2) Bill for completion on a single day.
We anticipate that if, on the day programmed by the amendment, the Business of the House Motion and the EU Withdrawal (No. 2) Bill succeed in obtaining majorities in the House of Commons, then the Bill will subsequently also secure wide support in the House of Lords and will therefore quickly become law.
The EU Withdrawal (No.2) Bill would:
1. give the Government a few weeks in which to secure both a majority in the House of Commons and the agreement of the EU for whatever is its Plan B.
2. If that fails, the Bill would give the Liaison Committee of the House (the most senior and most comprehensive Committee of the House) a few weeks to propose and obtain a majority in favour of an alternative plan which might include proposals for changes to the Brexit deal and/or proposals for processes to arrive at a compromise (such as indicative votes, citizens’ assemblies, or a referendum). The Government, under the new Act, would be compelled to implement the plan, if it is approved by the House of Commons.
3. If the Liaison Committee cannot agree a plan or if the House of Commons rejects the Liaison Committee’s plan or if the Liaison Committee requests an extension as part of its plan, the Bill would compel the Government to seek an extension of the Article 50 process (and provide for the ‘exit day’ in the original Withdrawal Act to be adjusted accordingly).
I presented the EU Withdrawal (No.2) Bill for First Reading today which you can see here: https://goo.gl/mZmPYA
The Bill is sponsored by Liz Kendall, Norman Lamb, Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn, Nicky Morgan and Sir Oliver Letwin.