EU Withdrawal Bill: amendments and debates

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What is the current progress of the EU Withdrawal Bill?

The EU Withdrawal Bill has completed ‘ping-pong’ in the Commons and the Lords. On 20 June it will return to the Commons for, probably, the final consideration. There are now only four outstanding areas, most notably around whether Parliament will have a ‘meaningful vote’ on the bill.

The Commons will likely accept the changes the Government made in the Lords, and then divide on the ‘meaningful vote’ amendment. Provided this issue is resolved on Wednesday, the bill will then be able to receive Royal Assent.

So far, Parliament has spent an estimated over 258 hours debating the bill: 102 hours, 36 minutes in the Commons, and 156 hours, five minutes in the Lords.

How was the bill amended in the Lords and how has the Commons responded?

The Lords made significant changes to the bill. The Government lost 15 votes, with a number of Conservative peers rebelling including previous government ministers. Peers also accepted 170 amendments proposed by the Government.

The Commons accepted all of the amendments the Government made in the Lords, and rejected eight of the 15 government defeats. The Lords have now sent back four final amendments for consideration in the Commons. The only one on which the Commons will vote on is the ‘meaningful vote’ amendment.  


Topic (and tabled by)

Majority in the Lords

What the amendment means

What happened in the Commons?

What happened in the Lords?

What does the Commons need to consider?

Customs Union (amendment 1, 2)

Lord Kerr, crossbench peer

348–225 Would prevent the European Communities Act 1972 from being repealed until the Government has laid before Parliament a statement outlining the steps it has taken to negotiate the UK’s participation in a customs union with the EU. The amendment says this would need to happen by 31 October 2018.

MPs rejected amendment 1 – 325-298

MPs rejected amendment 2 – 326-296

The Commons accepted the Government’s amendment in lieu which would require the Government to lay a statement before Parliament, before October 2018, outlining the steps taken to negotiate an agreement for the UK to participate in a customs arrangement with the EU.

The Lords accepted the Government’s amendment.  

Enhanced scrutiny procedure (amendment 4)

Baroness Hayter, Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

314–217 Would mean that secondary legislation used to amend certain retained EU law would be subject to an enhanced scrutiny procedure. This includes retained EU law relating to employment and equality rights, health and safety protections, and consumer and environmental standards. MPs rejected the amendment – 318-301

The Lords accepted the Government’s amendment which requires the affirmative scrutiny procedure, or an enhanced scrutiny procedure, to be used when amending retained EU law which originally implemented EU directives that were negotiated at the EU level. Previously these could only be modified within EU law.

The affirmative procedure means that statutory instruments would have to be actively approved by both Houses of Parliament

The Commons needs to consider the Government’s amendment.

Charter of Fundamental Rights (amendment 5)

Lord Pannick, crossbench peer

316–245 Would transfer the Charter of Fundamental Rights into domestic law, excluding the preamble and Chapter V of the Charter. Chapter V sets out the rights of citizens living in the EU (such as the right to stand as a candidate in European Parliament elections and freedom of movement) and would therefore not make sense if contained in domestic law. MPs rejected the amendment – 321-301 The Lords accepted the Commons’ decision.  

Challenges to retained EU law (amendment 52)

Lord Beith, Lib Dem peer

285–235 Removes the section of the bill which allowed ministers to use secondary legislation to establish when individuals can challenge the validity of retained EU law after exit day. MPs rejected the amendment – 326-301 The Lords accepted the Commons’ decision.  

Challenges to retained EU law (amendment 53)

Lord Pannick, crossbench peer

280–223 Would allow legal challenges to domestic law if it fails to comply with the general principles of EU law. This reflects the fact that the bill currently transfers general principles of EU law into domestic law as long as they are recognised by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) before exit day.

MPs rejected the amendment – 320-297

The Commons accepted the Government’s amendment in lieu to allow legal challenges on this basis for three years after exit day.

The Lords accepted the Government’s amendment in lieu.   

Scope of delegated powers (amendment 10, 43, 45)

Lord Lisvane, crossbench peer

349–221 Amends clause 7 – which gives ministers powers to amend retained EU law using delegated legislation – so that ministers can only use these powers where “necessary” rather than where they think it is “appropriate”.  After this was voted part of the bill, changes to delegated powers in clause 9 and 17 were accepted.

MPs rejected amendment 10 – 320-305

MPs rejected amendment 43 – 322-306

MPs rejected amendment 45 – 317-306

The Lords accepted the Commons’ decision.  

'Meaningful vote' (amendment 19)

Viscount Hailsham, Conservative peer


A new clause which says that Parliament must approve the withdrawal agreement and transitional measures in an act of Parliament and – if possible – before the European Parliament has debated and voted on this.

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.

The Commons rejected the Lords’ amendment 324-298 and accepted the Government’s amendment in lieu which set out how Parliament will approve the Withdrawal Agreement and that, if it does not approve, a minister will make a statement setting out how the Government “proposes to proceed” within 28 days.

However, during the debate, backbench Conservative MPs put pressure on the Government to make concessions: the Government agreed to discuss with backbenchers how to make its amendment more robust. In particular, the Government agreed to look at an amendment tabled by Dominic Grieve which would require it to seek approval in the Commons for the steps it will take if the House rejects the Withdrawal Agreement or if no agreement is reached with the EU by 30 November 2018.

The Lords accepted the Government’s amendment in lieu. They then voted 354-235 in favour of an amendment Viscount Hailsham tabled on behalf of Dominic Grieve.

This was an amendment which reflected the agreement Conservative backbenchers thought they had reached with the Government. It says that, if Parliament rejects the deal brought back from Brussels, then the Commons will vote on a motion to approve a statement made by a minister setting out what the Government plans to do next. If no deal is reached with the EU by 21 January 2019, then a minister must make a statement setting out how the Government plans to proceed and the Commons must approve this statement in a motion.

Crucially, compared to what the Government tabled last week, these motions would – in theory – be amendable.

The Commons needs to consider Viscount Hailsham’s (Dominic Grieve’s) amendment.

Parliamentary approval of mandate for future negotiations (amendment 20)

Lord Monks, Labour peer

270–233 Would prevent secondary legislation to implement the withdrawal agreement (clause 9) from being used until after Parliament has approved a mandate for negotiations about the UK’s future relationship with the EU. MPs rejected amendment 20 – 321-305 The Lords accepted the Commons’ decision.  

Rights of reunification of unaccompanied child refugees (amendment 24)

Lords Dubs, Labour peer

205–181 A new clause on the ability of unaccompanied child refugees in one EU member state to join relatives in another. The new clause requires the Government to try and negotiate to maintain this arrangement. The House accepted the Government’s amendment in lieu which sets out the Government’s intention to negotiate an agreement with the EU to allow an unaccompanied child to join a relative in the UK who is a lawful resident (and vice versa). The Lords’ accepted the Government’s amendment from the Commons, as well as an additional government amendment to remove the section in the clause which says this only applies to children who are not in the care of someone who is “aged 18 or over”. The Commons needs to consider the Government’s amendment.

Northern Ireland (amendment 25)

Lord Patten, Conservative peer and Chair of the 1998–99 Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland

309–242 A new clause which explicitly preserves North-South co-operation after Brexit and prevents the establishment of new border arrangements which did not exist before exit day, unless agreed between the UK Government and the Government of Ireland.

MPs accepted the Government’s amendment in lieu. This amends the Lords’ clause to refer to the North-South co-operation in the Belfast Agreement (rather than list the specific areas of co-operation) and reduces the list of new border arrangements to include “physical infrastructure, including border posts, or checks and controls”. It also says this should be subject to an agreement between the UK and the EU rather than the UK and Ireland.

The Lords accepted the Government’s amendment in lieu.   

Continuing relationship with the EU (amendment 32)

Lord Bishop of Leeds

298–227 Would ensure that the act will not prevent the UK from replicating EU law made after exit day in UK law and from continuing to participate in EU agencies after exit day. The Government accepted this amendment.    

Date and time of exit (amendment 37, 39, 125)

Duke of Wellington, Conservative peer

311–233 The Government amended the bill during the Commons committee stage to include these details in the bill but the Lords voted to revert to the original wording. The Duke of Wellington said they wanted to give the Commons a chance to think again.

MPs rejected amendment 37 – 326-301

MPs rejected amendment 39 – 324-302

MPs rejected amendment 125 – 328-297

The Lords accepted the Commons’ decision.  

European Economic Area (EEA) (amendment 51)

Lord Alli, Labour peer

245–218 Would force the Government to make remaining in the European Economic Area a negotiating objective. Lord Alli said this was to give the Commons the opportunity to make the decision on whether the UK should remain part of the EEA.

MPs rejected amendment 51 – 327-126

Three Conservative MPs voted in favour of the amendment (Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry), and 74 Labour MPs defied their own whip to abstain from the vote.

Labour’s amendment referring to ‘access to the internal market’ was also rejected amendment – 322-240.

The Lords accepted the Commons’ decision.  

Scrutiny (amendment 110)

Lord Lisvane, crossbench peer

225–194 The purpose of the sifting committee is to ‘sift’ how statutory instruments used to amend retained EU law should be scrutinised by Parliament. Lord Lisvane’s amendment would make the committee oversee all statutory instruments (giving it a wider scope) and give it the power to ‘require’ greater scrutiny for statutory instruments, rather than just ‘recommend’ there needs to be greater scrutiny (as is currently drafted).

MPs rejected amendment 110 – 324-302

MPs rejected amendment 128 – 325-304

The Lords accepted the Government’s amendment which would require ministers to make a written statement if they disagree with the scrutiny procedure for a statutory instrument the committee has recommended. The Commons needs to consider the Government’s amendment.

Environmental principles (amendment 3)

Lord Krebs, crossbench peer

294244 Would require the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to take steps to maintain the EU’s environmental principles in domestic law after Brexit. Defra has launched a consultation on a new Environmental Principles and Governance Bill but peers did not believe this was sufficient. The amendment lists the exact principles which need to be given effect in domestic law.

MPs rejected the amendment – 320-296

The Commons accepted Oliver Letwin’s amendment in lieu (which was supported by the Government) which sets out the same list of principles which should be included in a new environment bill. 

The Lords accepted the Commons’ amendment in lieu.    



The Government was only defeated once at report stage in the Commons – on an amendment to clause 9 tabled by Dominic Grieve. Clause 9 allows the Government to use statutory instruments in anticipation of the contents of the withdrawal agreement. The amendment would only allow ministers to use these statutory instruments if Parliament has voted to approve the final terms of the withdrawal agreement. 

Key government amendments


What the amendment means

Response in the Commons

ECJ judgements

This set of amendments gives greater guidance to UK courts as to when they should refer to ECJ judgements made after exit day. The original text in the bill said that UK courts should do so “if it considers it appropriate” – which critics argued meant that courts would be forced to make a policy choice. The Government has amended this to say that courts should refer to ECJ judgements when it is “relevant”.

Status of retained EU law A new clause has clarified the status of retained EU law after exit day. It also sets out how this category of law should be amended after exit day, outside of the powers given to ministers under the bill. Lord Callanan did acknowledge that – given the detail of this new amendment – the Government “would be prepared to return to the issue at Third Reading” to give the Lords time to reflect. Peers accepted amendments to other parts of the bill needed as a result of this new clause. Accepted
Scope of delegated powers

Amendments to clause 7 remove the ability to establish new public bodies using delegated powers and also prevent delegated powers from being used to amend the Scotland and Wales Acts.

Amendments to remove the ability to raise fees using these powers.

The Government supported an amendment tabled by peers to remove the ability of ministers to amend the act itself using secondary legislation.

Amendments to increase the reporting requirements of ministers to Parliament when introducing statutory instruments. For example, requiring a minister to make a statement as to why there is “good reason” for the statutory instrument and why it is “a reasonable course of action”.

Removal of clause 8 This clause gave ministers the power to use secondary legislation to amend UK law so that the UK would continue to comply with international obligations after it leaves the EU. In an updated version of the delegated powers memorandum, which accompanies every piece of legislation containing delegated powers, the Government has said that as the bill has progressed through Parliament, it has become clear that the powers will be unnecessary. The Government has added that where the UK is in breach of international obligations, changes will be made through primary legislation or under other delegated powers where possible. Accepted

Amendments on devolution which have been agreed with the Welsh Government. Although they are still opposed by the Scottish Government, during the debate Lord Keen, the Ministry of Justice spokesperson in the Lords, said he hoped the Scottish Government would decide to sign up to the agreement.

These amendments give UK ministers the power to place temporary restrictions on the devolved administrations ability to legislate in certain devolved policy areas returning from the EU. The UK and devolved governments agree that new UK-wide frameworks will be needed in some of these areas to replace the framework currently set by the EU. The Government argues that temporary restrictions are needed to prevent divergence across the UK as new frameworks are legislated. Restrictions may only be needed in the 24 areas where UK legislation might be necessary.

Accepted 321–40 
Update date: 
Tuesday, June 19, 2018