What is the meaning of a “meaningful vote” by MPs on Brexit? What are the Tory rebels trying to do? Could the House of Lords stop the government in its tracks? Here is a bluffer’s guide to the paths, perils and pitfalls that parliament will face in the months ahead.
- In the legislative spaghetti that the Commons and Lords are having to digest, three Bills stand out:
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. This would take the UK out of the EU, by repealing the 1972 Act that took the UK into the (then) Common Market. The Withdrawal Bill has been approved by the House of Commons. It is now being considered by the House of Lords.
The Trade Bill. This is designed to allow the UK to maintain its current trade links in the immediate aftermath of Brexit. Our current trade rules are set by the EU. These rules would be adopted as UK rules, pending the negotiation of long-term trade agreements with the EU and the rest of the world. This is currently with MPs in the House of Commons, as is…
The Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill. This is usually referred to as the “Customs Bill.” It is designed to provide the UK with its new customs, VAT and excise system once we have left the EU, and to establish a platform for future trade agreements with other countries. Thus, whereas the Trade Bill concerns what happens during transition next year and the year after, the Customs Bill concerns what happens after that.
- The earliest threat to the government’s plans comes from the House of Lords.
A group of peers from all parties want the UK to remain in the EU’s customs union. They are seeking this in an amendment to the Withdrawal Bill. It would mean abandoning one of the key planks of Brexit—the right of the UK to negotiate its own trade agreements in future. If this amendment were to pass, then MPs would have to decide how to respond. In practice, their decision is likely to be overtaken by a similar pro-customs union move already underway in the House of Commons….