Meaningful Vote – Q &A
What did the Government announce today?
The Government made three important concessions today in the face of Labour’s NC1:
That Parliament will have a vote on ‘not only the withdrawal arrangements but also the future relationship with the European Union’.
That the vote Parliament has on the draft withdrawal agreement will take place ‘before it is concluded’
That the House of Commons (and Lords) will debate and vote on the draft withdrawal deal before the European Parliament or Council.
Why is this significant?
For months Labour has been pushing the Government to grant Parliament a meaningful vote on the terms of our exit from the EU.
Until her Lancaster House Speech (17th Jan) the Prime Minister had refused to commit to any form of vote in Parliament. Before today the Government had given no indication when this vote would take place and whether the House of Commons would vote before the European Parliament does.
The Government announced that the House of Commons will have the first chance to debate and vote on a proposed withdrawal deal. This will allow Parliament to have real influence over negotiations and the first say on any draft agreement. The EU Parliament will then vote and debate on the final deal in the knowledge of the view expressed by the UK Parliament.
By stating that the draft withdrawal agreement will be considered by the House of Commons ‘before it is concluded’ (again, this is the first time the Government have confirmed this), this allows the possibility of the Government to revise their proposed deal in light of the views expressed by the Houses of Parliament. If the Government were to lose a vote in the House and choose to not to do so, that would be an extraordinary position to take.
Today is also the first time the Government has confirmed there will be a vote on the Article 50 agreement and any future relationship with the EU. This matters because the nature of that second deal
(i.e. on our future relationship with the EU) will be hugely important for the future of UK trade, the economy, security, rights etc.
Isn’t this the same ‘take it or leave it’ vote that the Prime Minister has already promised?
The Government has made three new and significant commitments today. Whatever the Prime Minister or NO 10 may say, they have never committed before to the House of Commons having the first say on a proposed deal; that the vote will take place on a draft deal; or that there will be votes on both the withdrawal deal or a new deal with the EU. Those are all concessions won because of pressure from Labour.
On the EU Commission’s favoured timetable, it is likely a proposed deal will be in the autumn of 2018,
4 or 5 months before the end of the Article 50 process. That would allow time for the Government to consider the views expressed by the House of Commons before the proposed deal reaches the EU Parliament and Council.
But isn’t this just a choice between Theresa May’s Brexit deal and reverting to WTO terms (deal or no deal)?
The Government has now said that the UK Parliament will have the first say on any proposed deal. If she can’t win the support of the House – let’s remember she has a majority in the Commons and 498 MPs voted to trigger Article 50 last week – then the chances are she has negotiated a bad deal for Britain.
At that stage the Prime Minister would have a number of options (e.g. seeking to extend the Article 50 period with the EU, renegotiating the proposed deal, leaving under WTO terms). Her focus should be on getting the best possible deal. By ensuring the UK Parliament has the first say on the proposed deal, this would help her achieve that.
Are Labour satisfied with this concession?
This concession follows months of Labour pushing the Government to commit to a meaningful vote. It is not everything Labour has asked for – but it is a significant step forward. As with any 11th hour concession we will need to see if it can be firmed up, including as the Bill progresses through Parliament. Labour also voted today for another amendment (NC110) which would have strengthened this further.
Quote by Keir Starmer:
This is a significant victory for Parliament, and follows months of concerted pressure from Labour.
Labour has repeatedly said that Parliament must have a meaningful vote on any final Brexit deal – that means MPs are able to vote on the final deal before it is concluded; that the Commons has a debate and vote before the European Parliament does; and that the vote will cover withdrawal from the EU as well as our future relationship with the EU.
This eleventh hour concession is therefore welcome, but it needs to be firmed up as the Bill progresses through both Houses.”