News | Published October 22 2019

PM to seek approval for Withdrawal Agreement Bill in key Commons vote

Prime minister Boris Johnson will look to win the support of MPs in a vote on his Withdrawal Agreement Bill, paving the way for the UK to leave the EU by the Article 50 deadline of October 31 as planned.

MPs will vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill this week, after it was published on Monday. Today, MPs will be asked to approve a three-day timetable to consider the legislation.

Despite Brexit plans seemingly being put on hold after the Letwin amendment passed in the House of Commons in Saturday's historic sitting, government ministers are confident that they can win approval of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill this week.

Some MPs, including pro-Leave Labour rebels and former Conservative MPs who lost the whip, may be ready to support the deal, favouring a withdrawal agreement and an orderly Brexit as opposed to a no-deal departure.

Should the Withdrawal Agreement Bill pass, MPs will then vote on the accompanying “programme motion”, outlining the three-day timetable for the legislation to pass through the Commons.

Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg warned on Monday: “People who do not vote for the programme motion will not be voting for Brexit on October 31.”

However, the proposed three-day timetable has come under fire from a number of opposition MPs.

Labour shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, accused the government of trying to “bounce” MPs into pushing the bill through at short notice, without scrutinising it properly.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told the BBC of the Labour party’s “outrage” at government efforts to fast-track the legislation.

Thornberry said: “When I did the Health and Social Care Act, which was a major piece of legislation, it took three months.

"In order for politicians to do their job properly, we do need to have time.”

Former Conservative MP Rory Stewart who lost the whip over his support of the Benn Act, indicated that he’d support the government on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill but emphasised Parliament’s need for a “normal” amount of time to consider the implications.

Speaking to BBC Radio Four, Stewart said: “We need to finish this in the proper way, and if we're going to deliver Brexit, we need to deliver it in a way that Brexiteers and Remainers believe was taken through Parliament fairly.

However, Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said in response that Parliament "can move pretty quickly" and has already debated Brexit for over 500 hours, when speaking to the BBC Breakfast show.

Jenrick added: “Most MPs, frankly, are very familiar with the vast majority of issues that are in this bill.”

If the Withdrawal Agreement and the programme motion both pass, the bill will proceed to the committee stage, which may prove another obstacle to the government's plans because it will provide MPs with an opportunity to put down amendments to the legislation.

Any amendments are likely to include a customs union and the staging of a second confirmatory referendum, options which could  see the UK aligned more closely to the EU. Both a customs union and a second referendum are opposed by the government.

Should any such amendment pass, it is likely that the bill will be pulled entirely.

In the lead-up to the debate on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, the prime minister said: "The public doesn't want any more delays, neither do other European leaders and neither do I.

"Let's get Brexit done on 31 October and move on.”

Meanwhile, European Council president Donald Tusk has informed EU leaders that he is consulting on how to respond to the UK’s request for an extension to the Article 50 deadline, after Johnson was obliged to ask for one by UK law under the so-called Benn Act.

Johnson did accompany his unsigned request for an extension with a signed letter from himself, outlining why he believed an extension to Article 50 would be inappropriate.

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
October 22 2019

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