The EU Withdrawal (No.5) Act has received Royal Assent.
This is a piece of legislation that was introduced to Parliament by backbenchers Yvette Cooper (Labour) and Oliver Letwin (Conservative). The Act requires the Government to move a motion on 9 April saying that the Government will seek an extension to Article 50. The Government has now laid that motion saying that it will seek an extension to 30 June. It will be debated for up to 90 minutes.
MPs are able to amend the motion, and two amendments have been tabled. One from Ian Blackford, SNP Leader in Westminster, which says that an extension cannot be shorter than 30 June; and one from Peter Bone, backbench Conservative MP, which seeks to limit the extension to 15 April.
During the passage of the Act, the Lords amended the bill to remove the original provision which said that if the EU suggested an alternate date to the one approved by Parliament, MPs would have to vote to approve that date. However, it also added a provision preventing the extension from being shorter than 22 May. This means the Prime Minister will be free to agree any extension which goes beyond 22 May without parliamentary approval.
The other key change to the Act was a government clause which amends the way Parliament needs to approve the change to the date of exit day in the EU Withdrawal Act.
Under the EU Withdrawal Act, a date change had to go through ‘affirmative procedure’ which requires active approval from both Houses of Parliament. The passage of the EU Withdrawal (No.5) Act means it now only needs to go through negative procedure – which gives parliamentarians 40 days to vote to ‘annul’ it. By convention, the Government usually leaves at least 21 days before bringing a statutory instrument laid under this procedure into force – but this could be set aside in this kind of tight timeframe. So, the effect of the change would make it much easier for the Government to change the date on the very compressed timetable it is likely to face after the emergency European Council on 10 April.
- December 2018: The Prime Minister originally planned to hold a vote on a motion to approve the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the framework for the future UK-EU relationship, as required under the EU Withdrawal Act. At the start of the debate Dominic Grieve amended the business motion to ensure that any future motions moved under the EU Withdrawal Act would be amendable. After four days of debate, it was suspended and MPs didn’t vote on the deal.
- 15 January: The House of Commons voted against the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal by 432 votes to 202.
- 29 January: MPs voted on a motion to ‘consider’ the Prime Minister’s 21 January statement on what happened next. They passed two amendments. One amendment rejected leaving the EU without a deal which, although a clear expression of political will, does not change the legal default. The second was a vote in favour of the Prime Minister’s deal provided “alternative arrangements” can be found for the Irish backstop.
- 14 February: MPs voted against a government motion, 303–258, after around 60 Conservative MPs on both sides of the party abstained on the vote. The motion ‘reiterate[d]’ its support for the approach to leaving the EU that MPs voted for on 29 January.
- 27 February: MPs passed a motion which ‘noted’ the statement made by the Prime Minister on 26 February, as well as ongoing discussions with the EU.
- 12 March: MPs voted against the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, again, 242–391.
- 13 March: MPs voted on whether to leave the EU without a deal. An amendment was passed which replaced the text of the Government’s motion to reject leaving without a deal in all circumstances – removing the part of the motion which acknowledged that no deal is the default unless the UK and EU ratified an agreement. As a result, the Government decided to whip against the amended motion rather than allow a free vote – in effect, voting in favour of no deal. The motion as amended passed 321–278, after a number of ministers abstained (and one resigned).
- 14 March: MPs approved the Government's motion on extending Article 50 unamended 412–202 on a free vote. The motion stated that if the House approved a deal by 20 March, then the Government would seek a ‘one-off extension’ until 30 June to pass necessary legislation. If the House didn’t approve a deal by that point, then the motion ‘notes’ that there would need to be a clear purpose for an extension and going beyond 30 June would require the UK to hold European Parliament elections in May.
- 25 March: MPs voted to disapply Standing Order 14(1) – which gives government business precedent – on 27 March to give an alternative business motion precedence.
- 27 March: MPs voted on a series of different Brexit options – none received a majority.
- 29 March: The Government held a vote to approve the Withdrawal Agreement (without the Political Declaration on the framework for the future relationship). MPs rejected it 286–344.
- 1 April: MPs voted on four different Brexit options – none received a majority.
- 3 April: MPs pass all the stages of the EU Withdrawal (No.5) Bill in one day.
- 8 April: MPs approved amendments to the EU Withdrawal (No.5) Bill made in the House of Lords. The bill received Royal Assent.