Brexit deal: Key Commons committee dismisses government’s plan for how MPs will vote on Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement

Further blow to No 10 as influential group of MPs say usual rules must apply when Commons is given ‘meaningful vote’

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Friday 16 November 2018 01:10
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Brexit deal: Theresa May's draft withdrawal agreement explained

A key Commons committee has criticised the government’s plan for giving MPs a vote on Theresa May’s withdrawal deal, in a further blow to No 10’s prospects of forcing the agreement through parliament.

The influential Procedure Committee, which has been considering how to ensure MPs are given a “meaningful vote” on the proposed deal, slapped down ministers’ plan to change normal parliamentary procedures to make it harder for the Commons to bind Theresa May’s hands.

Instead, the committee said, the Commons should vote on proposed amendments to the government’s motion before deciding whether or not to approve the exit deal.

That means the Commons would be able to add a range of conditions – for example, that there should be a fresh public vote – before approving the deal.

Any amendment calling for the public to be given the final say via a referendum would be likely to receive significant support from MPs, although it would need Labour’s backing in order to pass.

The Independent’s petition in support of a Final Say vote has been signed by more than a million people.

The latest significant development comes a day after The Independent reported that ministers were heading towards an admission that MPs will have to vote on amendments before they vote on the government’s motion.

The order of the votes to be held on the proposed deal has been a matter of fierce debate, with some anti-Brexit MPs insisting the Commons must be allowed to vote on proposed amendments to the government motion before voting on the deal itself.

However, the government hoped to have the deal approved and only then let MPs debate potential amendments.

After hearing evidence from MPs, constitutional experts and the government, the Procedure Committee dismissed ministers’ proposal.

In a report, it said: “The government has argued that MPs must have the opportunity to approve or reject the government’s motion as tabled. This would depart from the usual practice of voting on amendments to the motion before the main motion, amended or not.

“The Procedure Committee recommends that, when considering the section 13 motion, the House should not depart from its usual practice of voting on amendments before voting on the main motion.”

Under the terms of the EU Withdrawal Act, passed earlier this year, the Commons must vote to approve the draft Brexit deal and a statement on the future relationship between the UK and EU if the withdrawal agreement is to be formally ratified.

MPs on the Procedure Committee said there were three options for holding a “meaningful vote” on the deal.

The first would see the Commons follow its usual practice of voting on amendments before voting on the motion itself. However, the process would be adapted to allow for a much lengthier debate than the usual 90 minutes and to ensure that more than the usual one amendment is voted on.

The second option would involve voting on the substance of the motion and then deciding on possible amendments. This was rejected by the committee.

A third possibility would see MPs vote on a series of non-binding motions expressing varying views, before holding the binding vote on the main motion.

Brexit deal: Theresa May's draft withdrawal agreement explained

Charles Walker, chair of the Procedure Committee, said: “The decision that MPs will be required to make on any motion to approve a withdrawal agreement will be one of the most momentous decisions ever taken both for the House of Commons and for the country.

“However it is clear that there are divergent views on how the procedure should operate. Today’s report sets out three potential models for MPs to consider, with a recommendation that the House should not depart from its usual practice of voting on amendments before voting on the main motion.”

Ultimately the Commons itself will decide what form the votes take. The government will table its proposal in the form of a business motion and put it to a vote of MPs.

The Procedure Committee said this discussion should be given a whole day in the parliamentary timetable, and should take place at least two days before the proposed debate on the deal itself.

MPs have previously demanded that the debate on the deal should be given at least five days.

Mr Walker said: “The committee expects the government to arrange a debate on a Business of the House motion to determine the procedure the House will use for the decision.

“It is essential that MPs are able to make a thorough assessment of the various issues at play in order to reach a decision on the procedure used to ratify the withdrawal agreement.”

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