EU withdrawal bill amendment: What is the ‘meaningful vote’ and how could it affect Theresa May’s Brexit plans?

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 20 June 2018 12:29 BST
Theresa May has ordered her MPs to vote against the Lords amendment
Theresa May has ordered her MPs to vote against the Lords amendment

Theresa May is facing a knife-edge vote in the Commons today over plans to give MPs a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal.

Negotiations between rebels on the Tory backbenches are expected to go down to the wire as Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, also attempts to persuade his Leave-backing MPs not to vote with the government.

What is it?

The issue for debate in the Commons today is an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill – the government’s flagship Brexit legislation that aims to transpose EU law onto the UK statue book after Britain formally leaves the bloc in March 2019.

What does the amendment aim to do?

It says that if Parliament rejects the deal reached by the government then the Commons will vote on a minister’s statement setting out the government’s next steps. If no deal is reached by Ms May on the 21 January 2019 then a minister must also make a statement, outlining the government’s plans to proceed. The Commons must also approve this.

By implication, it would essentially mean that a “no deal” would be off the cards given there is no parliamentary majority for the option. Parliament could also use the amendment to appeal to the EU27 to seek an extension to the Article 50 process and extend the negotiations.

The Institute for Government adds: "The clause also sets out specific deadlines for the Government for agreeing – and legislating for – the withdrawal agreement with the EU. If the government does not meet those deadlines, the amendment says that it "must follow any direction" approved by a resolution in the House of Commons and considered in the House of Lords. This gives the Commons – not the Lords – the power to decide the next steps for the government."

Why is it in the Commons today?

The Lords voted on Monday – by a landslide majority of 119 – to give MPs a “meaningful vote”. Through the system of parliamentary ping-pong, the legislation has now returned to the Commons and the vote later this afternoon is one of the last unresolved parliamentary hurdles of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.

According to the Institute for Government, so far, parliament has spent around 270 hours debating the bill. If the issue of the “meaningful vote” is resolved today then the bill will be able to move to its next stage and receive Royal Assent.

Why is it up for debate?

Defeat for Ms May would be seen as a major blow to her already fragile political authority so the Tory party has put in place in three-line whip, ordering its MPs to vote against the Lords amendment.

Tensions also heightened on Sunday after Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, suggested the Conservative rebels could ultimately “collapse” the government if they disagree with the final outcome of the exit talks.

Referring to the amendment in an interview broadcast on Sunday, the prime minister said: “Parliament cannot tie the hands of government in negotiations.”

What happens if it fails?

The government intends to offer parliament a vote if no deal is reached before the end of January, but, crucially, it will be a “neutral motion” and MPs will not be empowered to amend it and send the prime minister back to Brussels or request an extension of Article 50.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in