Meaningful vote

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Meaningful vote is the common name given to Section 13 of the United Kingdom's European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, entitled "Parliamentary approval of the outcome of negotiations with the EU" (full text of section). It is a requirement that the government of the United Kingdom bring forward an amendable parliamentary motion at the end of the Article 50 negotiations between the government and the European Union.[1][2]

The wording of the clause[note 1] was strongly contested by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, with the Lords proposing an amendment to the bill giving further powers to parliament. When the bill returned to the Commons the Conservative government offered concessions and the Lords' proposed amendment was defeated. The bill was then passed into law on 26 June 2018.[3]

History[edit]

Background[edit]

Following the UK's decision to leave the European Union, the result of a referendum on 23 June 2016, the UK government invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union. The UK is thus due to leave the EU at 11 pm on 29 March 2019 UTC.[4]

Gina Miller, a British businesswoman, took the government to court to challenge its authority to invoke Article 50 without reference to Parliament. On 3 November 2016, the High Court of Justice ruled in favour of Miller in the case R (Miller and Dos Santos) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.[5][6]

In January 2017 the Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May announced, "I can confirm today that the Government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament, before it comes into force."[7][8] As a result, on 13 July 2017, David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, introduced the bill in the Commons, including the following clause 9 statement:

9  Implementing the withdrawal agreement
(1)  A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement if the Minister considers that such provision should be in force on or before exit day.[9]

As a government bill, this first reading was pro forma, with the first debate taking place on the second reading.[10]

On 18 April 2017 Theresa May announced a snap general election for 8 June 2017,[11] with the aim of strengthening her hand in Brexit negotiations.[12] This resulted in a hung parliament, in which the number of Conservative seats fell from 330 to 317, despite the party winning their highest vote share since 1983, prompting her to broker a confidence and supply deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to support a minority government.

In July 2017 David Jones, Minister of State for Exiting the European Union, told the Commons he expected the parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal with the EU to happen "before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final agreement." Asked to clarify what would happen if MPs and members of the House of Lords decide they don’t like the deal, Jones said "the vote will be either to accept the deal. Or there will be no deal."[13] However, at an Exiting the European Union Select Committee meeting in October, Labour MP Seema Malhotra asked Davis, "The vote of our parliament, the UK parliament, could be after March 2019?",[note 2] to which Davis replied, "Yes, it could be."[14] This drew criticism from Labour opposition MPs and some Conservative MPs.[15][16]

Alteration of Clause 9[edit]

In December 2017 pressure grew on the government to amend clause 9 so that parliament would have approval of the final terms of the withdrawal deal between the UK and the EU prior to 29 March 2019, the date set for the UK's departure from the EU. Conservative MP Dominic Grieve advised the government to amend the clause themselves or he would table his own amendment to the bill.[17] Grieve duly tabled his amendment to the bill (Amendment 7) requiring any Brexit deal to be enacted by statute, rather than implemented by government order.[18]

Clause 9 was then introduced to the house as follows (Grieve's additions, amendment 7, in italics):

9  Implementing the withdrawal agreement
(1)  A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement if the Minister considers that such provision should be in force on or before exit day, subject to the prior enactment of a statute by Parliament approving the final terms of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.
(2)  Regulations under this section may make any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament (including modifying this Act).
(3)  But regulations under this section may not—
(a)  impose or increase taxation,
(b)  make retrospective provision,
(c)  create a relevant criminal offence, or
(d)  amend, repeal or revoke the Human Rights Act 1998 or any subordinate legislation made under it.
(4)  No regulations may be made under this section after exit day.[19]

At the weekend prior to the Commons vote on the amendment, the leaders of the all-party parliamentary group on EU relations signed a statement saying, "Members of all parties have already provided valuable scrutiny to the EU (Withdrawal) bill, and we have forced the government into some concessions. But little of that will matter unless we can have a truly meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement the government negotiates with the European Union."[20][21]

On the morning of 13 December 2017 Davis issued a written statement saying, "In the UK, the Government has committed to hold a vote on the final deal in Parliament as soon as possible after the negotiations have concluded. This vote will take the form of a resolution in both Houses of Parliament and will cover both the Withdrawal Agreement and the terms for our future relationship."[22]

External video
RT UK news report
MPs pass amendment giving them 'meaningful' vote on Brexit deal via RT UK on YouTube[23]

Later that day, at Prime Minister's Questions, the Conservative MP Anna Soubry requested that May accept Grieve's amendment, "The Prime Minister says that she wants a meaningful vote on Brexit before we leave the European Union. Even at this last moment, will she be so good as to accept my right hon. and learned Friend’s [Grieve's] amendment 7, in the spirit of unity for everybody here and in the country?"[24] However, May rejected the idea, saying "We were very clear that we will not commence any statutory instruments until that meaningful vote has taken place, but as currently drafted [Grieve's draft] what the amendment says is that we should not put any of those arrangements and statutory instruments into place until the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill has reached the statute book. That could be at a very late stage in the proceedings, which could mean we are not able to have the orderly and smooth exit from the European Union that we wish to have."[25]

That evening, Grieve's amendment was passed by 309 votes to 305 votes – a majority of 4,[18][26] representing a defeat for the government.[27][28] Twelve Conservative MPs voted against the government: Grieve, Soubry, Heidi Allen, Kenneth Clarke, Jonathan Djanogly, Stephen Hammond, Oliver Heald, Nicky Morgan, Bob Neill, Antoinette Sandbach, John Stevenson and Sarah Wollaston.[26] A month earlier, all but Stevenson were pictured along with fellow Conservative MPs Vicky Ford, Jeremy Lefroy, Paul Masterton and Tom Tugendhat on the front page of the Daily Telegraph describing them as "The Brexit Mutineers".[29]

House of Lords Report Stage[edit]

At the House of Lords Report Stage in April 2018, Viscount Hailsham[30] introduced a new clause as follows:

Before Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
n  Parliamentary approval of the outcome of negotiations with the European Union
(1)  Without prejudice to any other statutory provision relating to the withdrawal agreement, Her Majesty’s Government may conclude such an agreement only if a draft has been—
(a)  approved by a resolution of the House of Commons, and
(b)  subject to the consideration of a motion in the House of Lords.
(2)  So far as practicable, a Minister of the Crown must make arrangements for the resolution provided for in subsection (1)(a) to be debated and voted on before the European Parliament has debated and voted on the draft withdrawal agreement.
(3)  Her Majesty’s Government may implement a withdrawal agreement only if Parliament has approved the withdrawal agreement and any transitional measures agreed within or alongside it by an Act of Parliament.
(4)  Subsection (5) applies in each case that any of the conditions in subsections (6) to (8) is met.
(5)  Her Majesty’s Government must follow any direction in relation to the negotiations under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union which has been—
(a)  approved by a resolution of the House of Commons, and
(b)  subject to the consideration of a motion in the House of Lords.
(6)  The condition in this subsection is that the House of Commons has not approved the resolution required under subsection (1)(a) by 30 November 2018.
(7)  The condition in this subsection is that the Act of Parliament required under subsection (3) has not received Royal Assent by 31 January 2019.
(8)  The condition in this subsection is that no withdrawal agreement has been reached between the United Kingdom and the European Union by 28 February 2019.
(9)  In this section, “withdrawal agreement” means an agreement (whether or not ratified) between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union which sets out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU and the framework for the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union."[31]

The amendment with the new clause was passed by Lords by 335 to 244 – a majority of 91, which represented a further defeat for the government.[32][33] The new wording would have given MPs the power to stop the UK from leaving the EU without a deal, or to make Theresa May return to negotiations.[34]

Commons consideration of the Lords amendment[edit]

The government rejected the proposal by the Lords that would give the Commons the power to decide the next steps for the government if the withdrawal agreement were to be rejected by parliament.[35]

Labour MP Keir Starmer urged Conservative MPs who want Britain to remain in the EU to vote with Labour in favour of the Lords amendment when the bill returned to the Commons,[36][37] and former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown suggested that May could be replaced by a new Tory Prime Minister if she lost the vote.[38] However, prominent Tory remainer Amber Rudd urged her party's MPs to back the government in the vote.[36]

The process of parliamentary ping-pong then took place between 12 June and 20 June 2018.[39][40]

Alternative amendment by Dominic Grieve[edit]

The night before the bill was due back before the Commons, 11 June 2018, Dominic Grieve tabled a last-minute alternative amendment. The Lords amendment would prevent a 'no deal' scenario, and MPs and Lords could tell May to go back to the negotiating table and get something better, for example. Grieve's amendment also tackled the 'no deal' scenario but it set dates for May to come back to parliament and set out the government's intentions in the event of a 'no deal', and gain parliamentary approval for those plans.[41]

Grieve's amendment:

(5A)  Within seven days of a statement under subsection (4) being laid, a Minister of the Crown must move a motion in the House of Commons to seek approval of the Government’s approach.
(5B)  In the event of no political agreement having been reached on a withdrawal agreement by the end of 30 November 2018, a Minister of the Crown must move a motion in the House of Commons setting out how the Government intends to proceed and seeking the approval of the House for that course of action.
(5C)  If no political agreement has been reached on a withdrawal agreement by the end of 15 February 2019, the Government must bring the matter before both Houses of Parliament within five days and must follow any direction in relation to the negotiations under Article 50(2) of the Treaty of European Union which has been—
(a)  approved by a resolution of the House of Commons, and
(b)  the subject of a motion which has either been debated in the House of Lords, or upon which the House of Lords has not concluded a debate on the motion before the end of the period of five sitting days beginning with the first sitting day after the day on which the House of Commons passes the resolution mentioned in paragraph (a).[42]

Commons rejection of Grieve's amendment[edit]

On the morning of the vote, 12 June 2018, the government rejected the alternative amendment by Grieve. This set the scene for disagreement during the Commons debate about whether or not parliament should have a say in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.[41][43] The morning also saw Phillip Lee's surprise resignation as a junior Tory minister saying, "If, in the future, I am to look my children in the eye and honestly say that I did my best for them I cannot, in all good conscience, support how our country’s current exit from the EU looks set to be delivered."[44]

As the debate went on, the government gave assurances to potential Tory rebels that they would address their concerns in a new amendment for the Lords to consider. The concession offered by ministers was believed to include offering a new parliamentary motion if the Brexit deal was voted down by MPs and peers,[3] which would open the door to MPs taking control of the negotiations if ministers failed to strike a deal in Brussels.[45] The concession meant that the government won 324 votes to 298, a majority of 26.[46][3]

Aftermath of the Commons rejection of Grieve's amendment[edit]

On the BBC's Newsnight, Grieve said that May must honour "assurances" she's given that Parliament will get a bigger say on any final Brexit deal.[47][48] However, there was disagreement among Tories over what had been agreed, with Anna Soubry MP saying that, "the PM said yesterday that clause c of Dominic Grieve's amendment would be discussed as part of the new amendment to be tabled in the Lords",[49] and Stephen Hammond MP writing, "Parliament must be able to have its say in a 'no deal' situation and we made this point very strongly today to the Government. The Government has conceded this point and I expect to see a new amendment to cover this situation soon."[50]

A spokesperson for Downing Street claimed that the prime minister had agreed only to ongoing discussions, and Davis’s Brexit department issued a statement which read: "We have not, and will not, agree to the House of Commons binding the Government’s hands in the negotiations."[49] Tory MP Andrew Bridgen accused Tory remainers supportive of Grieve's amendment to the Brexit bill of deliberatively attempting to stop the UK leaving the EU completely.[51]

Speaking the day after the vote, in the Commons at Prime Minister's Questions, May said, "We have seen concerns raised about the role of Parliament in relation to the Brexit process. What I agreed yesterday is that, as the Bill goes back to the Lords, we will have further discussions with colleagues over those concerns. This morning, I have agreed with the Brexit Secretary that we will bring forward an amendment in the Lords, and there are a number of things that will guide our approach in doing so... As my right hon. friend the Brexit Secretary made clear in the House yesterday, the Government’s hand in the negotiations cannot be tied by Parliament, but the Government must be accountable to Parliament. Government determines policy, and we then need parliamentary support to be able to implement that policy.[52] Commenting, the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg said "The risk is that appears as double dealing."[53]

Government's proposed amendment[edit]

On the evening of 14 June 2018 the government published its compromise amendment:

(5A)  A Minister of the Crown must make arrangements for -
(a)  a motion in neutral terms, to the effect that the House of Commons has considered the matter of the statement mentioned in subsection (4), to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of 7 Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the statement is made, and
(b)  a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the statement to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of 7 Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the statement is made.
(5B)  Subsection (5C) applies if the Prime Minister makes a statement before the end of 21 January 2019 that no agreement can be reached in negotiations under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union on the substance of -
(a)  the arrangements for the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the EU, and
(b)  the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom after withdrawal.
(5C)  A Minister of the Crown must, within a period of 14 days beginning with the day on which the statement mentioned in subsection (5B) is made -
(a)  make a statement setting out how Her Majesty's Government proposes to proceed, and
(b)  make arrangements for -
(i)  a motion in neutral terms, to the effect that the House of Commons has considered the statement mentioned in paragraph (a), to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within a period of 7 Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the statement mentioned in paragraph (a) is made, and
(ii)  a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the statement mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of 7 Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the statement mentioned in paragraph (a) is made.[54]

As of 15 June 2018, rebel Tory MPs were reportedly still unhappy with the amendment as it only allows the Commons "a motion in neutral terms" (5C)(b)(i). Grieve had originally wanted the amendment to say that the government must seek the approval of Parliament for its course of action, and that ministers must be directed by MPs and peers.[55][56]

Re-tabling of Grieve’s amendment[edit]

On the evening of 14 June 2018 Viscount Hailsham, who proposed the original amendment on the meaningful vote, re-tabled Grieve's amendment under his own name in the Lords in full.[30][57] Speaking on the Sunday Politics programme, ahead of the amendment returning to the Lords, Grieve said, "The alternative is that we've all got to sign up to a slavery clause now saying, 'Whatever the government does when it comes to January, however potentially catastrophic it might be for my constituents and my country, I'm signing in blood now that I will follow over the edge of the cliff', and that, I can tell you, I am not prepared to do." Speaking on the same programme, the Solicitor General, Conservative MP Robert Buckland, replied, "If you were Michel Barnier and you were looking into the negotiation and looking into the future, it gives him a bit of a trump card to play when he knows that whatever the UK government might be saying to him now, he knows that at the end of it there's a third-party in this relationship, namely parliament, who are going to get involved and trump whatever the UK government say. Now that's not a good place for David Davis to be in. David Davis needs to be able to go out there and have a firm negotiating hand..."[58]

On 18 June Lord Hailsham's amendment was passed by the Lords, a defeat for the government by 354 votes to 235: a majority of 119.[59][60]

When the bill returned to the Commons on 20 June the government offered further concessions. The concessions meant that the government won by 319 votes to 303: a majority of 16.[61][62]

Grieve said afterwards: "We’ve managed to reach a compromise without breaking the government – and I think some people don't realise we were getting quite close to that. I completely respect the view of my colleagues who disagree, but if we can compromise we can achieve more."[62]

Full text[edit]

Final full text of section 13 as it appears in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

13  Parliamentary approval of the outcome of negotiations with the EU[63]

(1)  The withdrawal agreement may be ratified only if—
(a)  a Minister of the Crown has laid before each House of Parliament—
(i)  a statement that political agreement has been reached,
(ii)  a copy of the negotiated withdrawal agreement, and
(iii)  a copy of the framework for the future relationship,
(b)  the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship have been approved by a resolution of the House of Commons on a motion moved by a Minister of the Crown,
(c)  a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship has been tabled in the House of Lords by a Minister of the Crown and—
(i)  the House of Lords has debated the motion, or
(ii)  the House of Lords has not concluded a debate on the motion before the end of the period of five Lords sitting days beginning with the first Lords sitting day after the day on which the House of Commons passes the resolution mentioned in paragraph (b), and
(d)  an Act of Parliament has been passed which contains provision for the implementation of the withdrawal agreement.
(2)  So far as practicable, a Minister of the Crown must make arrangements for the motion mentioned in subsection (1)(b) to be debated and voted on by the House of Commons before the European Parliament decides whether it consents to the withdrawal agreement being concluded on behalf of the EU in accordance with Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union.
(3)  Subsection (4) applies if the House of Commons decides not to pass the resolution mentioned in subsection (1)(b).
(4)  A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of 21 days beginning with the day on which the House of Commons decides not to pass the resolution, make a statement setting out how Her Majesty's Government proposes to proceed in relation to negotiations for the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union.
(5)  A statement under subsection (4) must be made in writing and be published in such manner as the Minister making it considers appropriate.
(6)  A Minister of the Crown must make arrangements for—
(a)  a motion in neutral terms, to the effect that the House of Commons has considered the matter of the statement mentioned in subsection (4), to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the statement is made, and
(b)  a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the statement to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the statement is made.
(7)  Subsection (8) applies if the Prime Minister makes a statement before the end of 21 January 2019 that no agreement in principle can be reached in negotiations under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union on the substance of—
(a)  the arrangements for the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the EU, and
(b)  the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom after withdrawal.
(8)  A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of 14 days beginning with the day on which the statement mentioned in subsection (7) is made—
(a)  make a statement setting out how Her Majesty's Government proposes to proceed, and
(b)  make arrangements for—
(i)  a motion in neutral terms, to the effect that the House of Commons has considered the matter of the statement mentioned in paragraph (a), to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the statement mentioned in paragraph (a) is made, and
(ii)  a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the statement mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the statement mentioned in paragraph (a) is made.
(9)  A statement under subsection (7) or (8)(a) must be made in writing and be published in such manner as the Minister making it considers appropriate.
(10)  Subsection (11) applies if, at the end of 21 January 2019, there is no agreement in principle in negotiations under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union on the substance of—
(a)  the arrangements for the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the EU, and
(b)  the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom after withdrawal.
(11)  A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of five days beginning with the end of 21 January 2019—
(a)  make a statement setting out how Her Majesty's Government proposes to proceed, and
(b)  make arrangements for—
(i)  a motion in neutral terms, to the effect that the House of Commons has considered the matter of the statement mentioned in paragraph (a), to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of five Commons sitting days beginning with the end of 21 January 2019, and
(ii)  a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the statement mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of five Lords sitting days beginning with the end of 21 January 2019.
(12)  A statement under subsection (11)(a) must be made in writing and be published in such manner as the Minister making it considers appropriate
(13)  For the purposes of this section—
(a)  a statement made under subsection (4), (8)(a) or (11)(a) may be combined with a statement made under another of those provisions,
(b)  a motion falling within subsection (6)(a), (8)(b)(i) or (11)(b)(i) may be combined into a single motion with another motion falling within another of those provisions, and
(c)  a motion falling within subsection (6)(b), (8)(b)(ii) or (11)(b)(ii) may be combined into a single motion with another motion falling within another of those provisions.
(14)  This section does not affect the operation of Part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (ratification of treaties) in relation to the withdrawal agreement.
(15)  In subsection (1) “framework for the future relationship” means the document or documents identified, by the statement that political agreement has been reached, as reflecting the agreement in principle on the substance of the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom after withdrawal.
(16)  In this section—
“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);
“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);
“negotiated withdrawal agreement” means the draft of the withdrawal agreement identified by the statement that political agreement has been reached;
“ratified”, in relation to the withdrawal agreement, has the same meaning as it does for the purposes of Part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 in relation to a treaty (see section 25 of that Act);
“statement that political agreement has been reached” means a statement made in writing by a Minister of the Crown which—
(a)  states that, in the Minister's opinion, an agreement in principle has been reached in negotiations under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union on the substance of—
(i)  arrangements for the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the EU, and
(ii)  the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom after withdrawal,
(b)  identifies a draft of the withdrawal agreement which, in the Minister's opinion, reflects the agreement in principle so far as relating to the arrangements for withdrawal, and
(c)  identifies one or more documents which, in the Minister's opinion, reflect the agreement in principle so far as relating to the framework.

'Plan B' amendment[edit]

At the end of November 2018, May presented the draft agreement on a future relationship with Europe to the Commons after closing a 17-month negotiation with the EU.[64] Consequently the first use of the meaningful vote was scheduled for 11 December 2018.[65]

If the UK parliament were to vote against the deal then the government would need to present an alternative, a 'Plan B'.[66] As a result, Grieve tabled a business motion for an amendment addressing the procedure in the event parliament votes down the deal.[2] The amendment states (change in italics):[67]

(11)  A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of five days beginning with the end of 21 January 2019—
(a)  make a statement setting out how Her Majesty's Government proposes to proceed, and
(b)  make arrangements for—
(i)  a motion in neutral terms, to the effect that the House of Commons has considered the matter of the statement mentioned in paragraph (a), to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of five Commons sitting days beginning with the end of 21 January 2019, and
(ii)  a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the statement mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of five Lords sitting days beginning with the end of 21 January 2019.
The provisions of Standing Order No. 24B (Amendments to motions to consider specified matters) shall not apply in respect of any motion tabled by a Minister of the Crown pursuant to any provision of section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

Standing Order No. 24B states: "Where, in the opinion of the Speaker... a motion... is expressed in neutral terms, no amendments to it may be tabled.[68] Grieve’s amendment disapplies this Standing Order to any motion moved under the meaningful vote section of the Act, which would make any motion relating to the withdrawal process amendable by parliament.[2]

The success of Grieve's amendment (passed 321 votes to 299) means MPs can now change that motion,[65] giving them far greater say over the UK's exit from the EU.[66]

"Three-day" amendment[edit]

Section 13 of the 2018 Act provides that:

(1)  The withdrawal agreement may be ratified only if—
(b)  the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship have been approved by a resolution of the House of Commons on a motion moved by a Minister of the Crown.[63]

On 4 December 2018 the government tabled a business motion to set out the timetable for the meaningful vote, as required by S13(1)(b), with the vote scheduled for 11 December 2018.[69]

Business motion setting out timetable for implementation of Section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

That the following provisions shall have effect. Sitting arrangements

(1)  In this Order—

‘European Union withdrawal motion’ means a motion in the name of a Minister of the Crown under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018; and ‘allotted day’ means a day on which the first Government business is the European Union withdrawal motion.

(2)  The allotted days shall be Tuesday 4 December, Wednesday 5 December, Thursday 6 December, Monday 10 December and Tuesday 11 December.
(3)  On this day, proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion may be proceeded with for up to eight hours from the commencement of proceedings on the Business of the House (Section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) motion.
(4)  On the second, third and fourth allotted days, proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion may be proceeded with for up to eight hours from the commencement of proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion.

Decisions on any amendments

(5)  No amendment to the European Union withdrawal motion may be selected before the final allotted day.
(6)  In respect of the European Union withdrawal motion, the Speaker may select up to six amendments of which notice has been given.
(7)  If, on the final allotted day, an amendment to the European Union withdrawal motion has been disposed of at or after the moment of interruption, any further amendments selected by the Speaker in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 6 of this Order may be moved, and the questions thereon shall be put forthwith.
(8)  Questions under this Order may be put after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.

General

(9)   No motion to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order shall be made except by a Minister of the Crown; and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith.
(10)  On an allotted day—
(a)  no Emergency Debate shall be taken in accordance with Standing Order No. 24;
(b)  no dilatory motion shall be made in relation to the proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion except by a Minister of the Crown; and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith;
(c)  no motion shall be proposed under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) except by a Minister of the Crown; and
(d)  no motion shall be proposed that the question be not now put.

On 9 January 2019 the government revised the timetable in light of the vote on the 11 December 2018 being cancelled.[70]

Revised business motion setting out timetable for implementation of Section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, changes in italics

That the following provisions shall have effect. Sitting arrangements

(1)  In this Order—

‘European Union withdrawal motion’ means a motion in the name of a Minister of the Crown under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018; and ‘allotted day’ means a day on which the first Government business is the European Union withdrawal motion.

(2)  
(a)  The House shall sit on Friday 11 January.
(b)  The allotted days shall be Tuesday 4 December, Wednesday 5 December, Thursday 6 December, Monday 10 December, Wednesday 9 January, Thursday 10 January, Friday 11 January, Monday 14 January and Tuesday 15 January.
(3)  On this day and the fifth allotted day, proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion may be proceeded with for up to eight hours from the commencement of proceedings on a Business of the House (Section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) motion.
(4)  On the second, third, fourth, sixth and eighth allotted days, proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion may be proceeded with for up to eight hours from the commencement of proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion.

Decisions on any amendments

(5)  No amendment to the European Union withdrawal motion may be selected before the final allotted day.
(6)  In respect of the European Union withdrawal motion, the Speaker may select any number of amendments of which notice has been given.
(7)  On the final allotted day, the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion at 7.00pm; and such questions shall include the questions on any amendments selected by the Speaker in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 6 of this Order which may then be moved.
(8)  Questions under this Order may be put after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.

General

(9)   No motion to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order shall be made except by a Minister of the Crown; and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith;
(a)  Notwithstanding the practice of this House, a Member may be called to speak twice to the Question on the European Union withdrawal motion without the leave of the House.
(10)  On an allotted day—
(a)  no Emergency Debate shall be taken in accordance with Standing Order No. 24;
(b)  no dilatory motion shall be made in relation to the proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion except by a Minister of the Crown; and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith;
(c)  no motion shall be proposed under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) except by a Minister of the Crown; and
(d)  no motion shall be proposed that the question be not now put.

Grieve was successful in another amendment to the revised timetable (change in italics):[71]

(7)  On the final allotted day, the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the European Union withdrawal motion at 7.00pm; and such questions shall include the questions on any amendments selected by the Speaker in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 6 of this Order which may then be moved. 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.

This meant that when the government lost the delayed meaningful vote on 15 January 2019 it had three sitting days (until 21 January 2019) to produce its 'Plan B'.[72]

Votes[edit]

First "meaningful vote" (15 January 2019)[edit]

Protesters near the Palace of Westminster, shortly before the first meaningful vote on 15 January 2019.

The meaningful vote took place in the House of Commons on 15 January 2019.[73] The vote was originally scheduled to be held on 11 December 2018 but on 10 December, May postponed it because it became clear the government's Brexit deal would be voted down.[74][75]

In the absence of any significant changes in the positions of the political parties, as expected, the government was defeated in the 15 January vote by 432 votes to 202. The 230-vote margin of defeat was the worst for any government in modern Parliamentary history.[76] 196 Conservative MPs, 3 Labour MPs and 3 independent MPs supported the deal. Voting against the deal were 118 Conservative MPs, 248 Labour MPs, all 35 SNP MPs, all 11 Liberal Democrat MPs, all 10 DUP MPs, all 4 Plaid Cymru MPs, the sole Green MP, and 5 independent MPs.[77]

The three Labour MPs who voted for the deal were Ian Austin, Kevin Barron, and John Mann. The three independent MPs who voted for the deal were Lady Hermon (elected as an independent), Frank Field (elected as Labour), and Stephen Lloyd (elected as a Liberal Democrat). The five independent MPs who voted against the deal were John Woodcock, Jared O'Mara, Kelvin Hopkins, Ivan Lewis, and Fiona Onasanya, all of whom had been elected as Labour.[77]

Abstaining were one Labour MP (Paul Flynn, absent due to prolonged illness),[78] all seven Sinn Féin MPs, who follow a policy of abstentionism, and eight others: the Speaker John Bercow, the Deputy Speakers Eleanor Laing (Conservative), Lindsay Hoyle (Labour) and Rosie Winterton (Labour); furthermore, the tellers' votes are not taken into account (for the Ayes, Wendy Morton and Iain Stewart, both Conservative, and for the Noes, Vicky Foxcroft and Nick Smith, both Labour).[79][80]

Full results[79]

Ayes (202)




Noes (432)









Abstentions (1)



In the immediate aftermath, Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn called for a vote of no confidence in the government, which was held on 16 January 2019. The government won the vote by 325 to 306, a majority of 19.[81]

Meaningful vote
Ballot → 15 January 2019
Required majority → 318 out of 635 voting MPs[note 3]
Yes
202 / 635
No
432 / 635
Abstentions
1 / 635
Sources: Hansard[79]

Vote on "motion in neutral terms" (29 January 2019)[edit]

Demonstrations outside the Palace of Westminster, shortly before the "motion in neutral terms" vote on 29 January 2019.

Section 13 of the 2018 Act required that the government put down a motion, in neutral terms, in response to the written statements made by the prime minister on 21 and 24 January, in which she set out her "Plan B". In accordance with Dominic Grieve's "three day amendment" to the parliamentary timetable, this motion was tabled on 21 January (three sitting days after the draft Withdrawal Agreement was rejected by MPs), and it was put to a vote on 29 January 2019. It took the form of a resolution to the effect that the House of Commons had "considered" the Prime Minister's statements. However this neutral motion was subject to amendment, and prior to voting on the main motion, the Commons voted on seven amendments, proposed by MPs and selected by the Speaker.[82]

Two amendments were passed. The Brady amendment called on the Government to re-negotiate over the Northern Ireland backstop. It passed by 16 votes, supported by the Conservatives and DUP over other parties in the Commons, but with 7 Labour MPs supporting it and 8 Conservative MPs voting against it. The Spelman-Dromey amendment declared the desire of the Commons to avoid a no-deal Brexit. It passed by 8 votes, supported by all the parties other than the Conservatives and DUP, but with the support of 17 Conservative MPs. An amendment seeking to pave the way for a binding legislation that would prevent no deal, the Cooper-Boles amendment, failed by 23 votes. Three other amendments also failed.[83][84] The main motion (as amended) was then passed without a division.

Final full text of resolution of the House of Commons on 29 January 2019
Resolved, That this House, in accordance with the provisions of section 13(6)(a) and 13(11)(b)(i) and 13(13)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, has considered the Written Statement titled “Statement under Section 13(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018” and made on 21 January 2019, and the Written Statement titled “Statement under Section 13(11)(a) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018” and made on 24 January 2019, and rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship, and requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border; supports leaving the European Union with a deal and would therefore support the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change. [emphasis added][85]


May stated that a further "meaningful vote" would be held "as soon as we possibly can", but that if it did not take place by February 13 then she would present a statement, to be followed by a debate on an amendable motion on February 14.[86]

Vote on amendable motion (14 February 2019)[edit]

On 12 February 2019, Theresa May made a statement to the House of Commons on the government's progress in securing a withdrawal agreement.[87] This was followed, on 14th February, by a vote on an amendable motion in the following terms: "That this House welcomes the Prime Minister’s statement of 12 February 2019; reiterates its support for the approach to leaving the EU expressed by this House on 29 January 2019 and notes that discussions between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland backstop are ongoing."'

All proposed amendments to the motion were defeated. The motion itself was then defeated, by a margin of 303-259, due in part to abstentions by the European Research Group faction of Conservative MPs, who objected that the motion appeared to rule out leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement.[88]

In her statement on 12 February, the prime minister reiterated her goal of having a second "meaningful vote" on a withdrawal agreement. However, she indicated that if this was not achieved by 26th February the government would make another statement to the House on the government's progress, and table an amendable motion relating to that statement, which would be put to a vote on 27 February.

Second "meaningful vote"[edit]

Meaningful vote
Ballot → 28 February 2019
Required majority → 318 out of 635 voting MPs[note 3]
Yes
0 / 635
No
0 / 635
Abstentions
0 / 635
Sources:

Further reading[edit]

  • Simson Caird, Jack (9 February 2018). "Parliament and the withdrawal agreement: the "meaningful vote"". commonslibrary.parliament.uk. House of Commons Library.
  • Grieve, Dominic (8 February 2018). "Brexit and the sovereignty of parliament: a backbencher's view". The Constitution Unit. University College London.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ While going through Parliament, the amendment was relabelled with a variety of clause numbers as other amendments were added to or deleted from the Bill, but by the final version of the Bill, which received Royal Assent, it had become Section 13. In the United Kingdom, Acts of Parliament have sections, whereas in a Bill (which is put before Parliament to pass) those sections are called clauses.
  2. ^ The UK is due to withdraw from the EU on 29 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b Based on 650 MPs minus seven Sinn Féin MPs who follow a policy of abstentionism and eight others: the Speaker John Bercow, the Deputy Speakers (Lindsay Hoyle, Eleanor Laing and Rosie Winterton), who do not vote; and the tellers (for the Ayes, Wendy Morton and Iain Stewart, and for the Noes, Vicky Foxcroft and Nick Smith), whose votes are not taken into account (total 15).

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External links[edit]