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On 29 March 2017, the House of Lords is due to debate a motion tabled by Baroness Smith of Basildon, Leader of the Opposition, calling for the appointment of a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider and report by the end of October 2017 on the terms and options for votes in Parliament on the outcome of negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, including how any such votes be taken before an agreement is considered by the European Parliament. 

Since the Supreme Court ruled that an Act of Parliament would be required to authorise ministers to trigger Article 50 and begin the process of withdrawing from the EU, Keir Starmer, the Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, has been calling for Parliament also to have “a meaningful vote at the end of the exercise”. In her Lancaster House speech on 17 January 2017, in which she set out her Brexit negotiating objectives, Theresa May confirmed that the Government would “put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament, before it comes into force”. During the Commons committee stage debate on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017, David Jones, Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, announced a Government undertaking to hold a parliamentary vote before a withdrawal deal was finally concluded, and a vote on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

Several attempts (ultimately unsuccessful) were made during the passage of the Act to introduce amendments to put guarantees about a parliamentary vote on the face of the Act. At report stage, the House of Lords voted by 366 votes to 268—a majority of 98 and the largest vote on record in the House of Lords—in favour of such an amendment, but this was later overturned by the House of Commons. This briefing summarises what happened during the passage of the Act in order to provide the background context to Baroness Smith’s motion.

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