Britain’s former first parliamentary counsel says MPs are not being side-lined despite the arguments about processby Stephen Laws / October 23, 2018 / Leave a comment
There are some recurring themes in the Brexit process. One of them is the accusation that the government is seeking to deny parliament its proper say.
This accusation resurfaced again last week following a government memorandum to the House of Commons Procedure Committee. The Committee is considering what procedure should be followed when the Commons votes on whether to approve any withdrawal deal agreed with the EU. It had asked the government for its views on the matter and Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab provided the memorandum in reply.
The controversy about the memorandum revives tensions between different understandings of the function of the “meaningful vote” that MPs were promised on the withdrawal deal. The tensions have been aggravated by the fact that, during the passage of the Bill for what became the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, that promise was turned into a legal requirement. Doing so has added a legal dimension to an issue that might better have been left to politics.
Section 13 of the Act sets out various requirements that must be satisfied before the government can “ratify” any agreed withdrawal deal. One is that the Commons must agree to a resolution approving both the deal and an agreed framework for the future relationship. Another is that parliament must have passed an Act “containing provision for the implementation” of the withdrawal deal itself.
The Commons procedure that would otherwise apply to the approval vote needs some modification for technical reasons: to prevent the debate on approval being limited to 90 minutes. The Procedure Committee has been looking at whether other departures from the default procedure should be recommended to the House.
The current controversy is about the ways in which the Commons should be able to amend the approval motion. There is no doubt that it will be an amendable motion. On that basis, the default procedure would be for amendments to be put down and, if selected for debate by the Speaker, voted on. Only when all the selected amendments had been disposed of would there be a final vote on the original motion or, depending on what had happened in the earlier votes, on the original motion “as amended.”
The government memorandum quite rightly points out that the foreseeable amendments to a motion to approve something (imposing pre-conditions or a delay, eg for…