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Committee sets out 'meaningful vote' options for House of Commons

16 November 2018

The Procedure Committee report sets out three potential options for the process for the House of Commons to approve any negotiated withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU.

Ratifying the withdrawal agreement

Under section 13(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the House of Commons must approve a resolution on the withdrawal agreement and a joint statement between the UK and the EU on the future framework of relations between the two. Without this resolution, the withdrawal agreement cannot be ratified by the UK.

Existing rules of the House of Commons would mean that a vote on any approval motion would take place after a debate of no more than 90 minutes, and only one amendment to the motion would likely to be selected and voted upon.

There is widespread agreement that this procedure does not meet the expectations of the general public, and the Committee notes that the 1971 debate on the motion to join the European Economic Community lasted six days.

Committee identifies three potential resolution models

The Committee has identified three potential models:

  • The usual practice – set out above – but modified to allow the Speaker to call more than one amendment for decision at the end of the debate
  • A procedure akin to that for Opposition day debates, where MPs decide on the motion originally tabled before deciding on any amendments
  • Voting on a series of freestanding and non-binding motions expressing alternative views on the withdrawal agreement, before a vote on the main motion.

Voting on amendments: House should not depart from usual practice

The Government has argued that MPs must have the opportunity to approve or reject the Government's motion as tabled. This would depart from the usual practice of voting on amendments to the motion before the main motion, amended or not. 

The Procedure Committee recommends that, when considering the section 13 motion, the House should not depart from its usual practice of voting on amendments before voting on the main motion.

However, the Committee recognises that it is for the House to determine its own procedures in this matter.

A day's debate on Business of the House motion

The Government will be expected to bring forward a Business of the House motion with its proposal for the procedure to be used. The Procedure Committee is recommending that there should be a day's debate on this motion, which will itself be amendable. 

This debate should take place at least two sitting days before any debate on the section 13 motion, and the Government's proposed motion should be tabled at least five sitting days in advance of the debate on it.

Chair's comment

Charles Walker OBE MP, Chair of the Procedure Committee, said:

"The decision that MPs will be required to make on any motion to approve a withdrawal agreement will be one of the most momentous decisions ever taken both for the House of Commons and for the country.

However it is clear that there are divergent views on how the procedure should operate. Today's report sets out three potential models for MPs to consider, with a recommendation that the House should not depart from its usual practice of voting on amendments before voting on the main motion.

The Committee expects the Government to arrange a debate on a Business of the House motion to determine the procedure the House will use for the decision.

It is essential that MPs are able to make a thorough assessment of the various issues at play in order to reach a decision on the procedure used to ratify the withdrawal agreement.

A number of colleagues were not able to support the Committee's recommendation on the procedure to be followed, and therefore were unable to support the report as a whole."

Further information

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