Despite anxiety, MPs will be able to make their voices heard on Brexit without pushing Britain over the no-deal cliff. But what happens beyond that is anyone's guessby Tom Clark / November 9, 2018 / Leave a comment
How MPs will have their say
Brexit is not yet a done deal. Some arcane parliamentary procedure still stands in its way. Thanks to a rebel amendment to the EU Withdrawal Act any deal with Brussels can only be implemented once the Commons has approved the deal. Further flesh was added to the bones of the “meaningful vote” in the summer when ministers spelled out that MPs would have to approve this immediate “divorce agreement,” and also (and just as important) a political declaration on the outline of future relations with the EU.
In the ordinary run of Commons business, amendments to a motion are voted on before the motion itself. But with Brexit, ministers want a clean “Yes” or “No” to their deal, and No 10 spins that the only choice is between Theresa May’s deal and no deal at all. This has led to fears the vote will be on an unamendable “take note” motion, so that the only options are backing the PM and forcing the country over the cliff. That won’t sound meaningful to MPs who would like to add conditions, stop the clock, force a new referendum or revise the whole Brexit strategy as David Allen Green recommends.
In reality, if MPs don’t like a putative May deal, they should be able to secure votes on alternative propositions. Indeed, an official annex sent to the Procedure Committee by the Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab (above), spelled out that this could be done by adapting the Opposition day practice, where motions are voted on first, and amendments later. Alternatively, as the Clerk of the House, David Natzler, discussed with the Brexit Committee recently, MPs could look to the multiple motion procedure they used to vote on electing various proportions of the Lords in 2003 and 2007. There was, Natzler said, no reason why procedures could not be devised to ensure that the will of the House is expressed.
So MPs should get their say. But that isn’t the same as retaining control in the aftermath of the government’s deal being voted down—or in the event that May ends up with no deal at all. The box overleaf considers both scenarios.
What happens if PM falters?
Most of the chatter about a “meaningful vote” assumes a deal of some sorts…