MPs have decided that their main attempt to stop a no-deal Brexit should focus on passing legislation which would force the government to act. This involves a three-step process.
- MPs have passed a Standing Order No. 24 motion (an emergency debate motion) on 3 September to take control of the order paper the following day which included provisions which allow the bill to go through all Commons stages on 4 September.
- The bill will then need to go to the Lords, who will need to pass it before Parliament is prorogued. Today, peers are voting to try manage the timetable of the bill in the House of Lords so that they can pass it on 5 and 6 September.
MPs passed a Standing Order No.24 motion to take control of the Commons order paper. The Speaker had to set aside precedent to allow MPs such a vote.
The motion they have tabled disapplies Standing Order 14(1) – which gives government business precedence in the House of Commons – on 4 September and instead rules that at 3:00pm the Speaker can interrupt any business to allow MPs to present the EU Withdrawal (No.6) Bill and commence second reading.
The motion also includes a business motion which allows all stages of the bill to be completed in one day. Proceedings on second reading need to finish by 5:00pm, while proceedings on third reading need to finish by 7:00pm. This avoids the need for a separate business motion tomorrow.
The motion also sets out what happens when the EU Withdrawal (No.6) Bill has completed its consideration in the House of Lords and how possible ping-pong (where MPs will need to accept or reject amendments made in the Lords) will work. It says that as soon as the Lords send the bill back to the Commons, MPs will be able to consider any amendments immediately for an hour, and vote whether to accept them or not. If the Lords give notice before 9 September of any amendments, then MPs can consider those before any other business. What the motion cannot do is set a timetable for the Lords.
MPs are also using their motion to stop the government proroguing Parliament before their bill has Royal Assent. The motion prevents ministers from moving the required motion under the Northern Ireland Act before 9 September. It also says that on Monday 9, Tuesday 10, and Wednesday 11 September the House cannot finish for the day until the Speaker has reported Royal Assent to any Act agreed by both the Commons and the Lords.
MPs are concerned that the government will be able to prorogue parliament before the bill has completed its passage. As a result, they have included provisions in the motion which would allow them to introduce a similar bill at the start of the new session later in October. It says if the EU Withdrawal (No.6) Bill has received third reading but not received Royal Assent, if the Speaker agrees a new bill is similar to the EU Withdrawal (No.6) Bill and if notice is given by a member in charge of the current bill, then certain elements of the business motion will apply on the second day of the new session.
MPs have now published the bill they plan to pass. The aim of the bill is to require the prime minister to ask for an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period to avoid a no-deal Brexit on 31 October. To do this the bill says:
- If MPs haven’t approved a deal in a meaningful vote, or approved leaving the EU without a deal by 19 October, then the prime minister must send a letter (specifically worded in the bill) to the president of the European Council which seeks an extension to Article 50 until 31 January 2020. If the EU agrees to the date, then the prime minister should also agree.
- If the EU proposes an alternative date, then the prime minister should agree to it, unless MPs do not vote for a motion – within two days – which approves the date suggested by the EU.
- The bill does not stop the prime minister from agreeing an extension to Article 50 himself.
- If an extension is agreed, then the bill requires the secretary of state for exiting the EU to publish a report on progress made on negotiations by 30 November 2019. MPs would then have five days to vote on an amendable motion to approve the report. If MPs don’t pass the motion approving the report – or the motion is amended – the secretary of state is required to publish a further report by 10 January 2020.
- The bill requires the secretary of state to publish further reports every 28 calendar days from 7 February 2020 until the UK reaches a deal with the EU – or the House of Commons decides it doesn’t need to.
- The bill amends the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 to say that ministers “must” amend the date of exit by statutory instrument, rather than “may” amend the date of exit.