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On 25 November 2018, the UK and the EU concluded a withdrawal agreement setting out the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU and a political declaration on the framework for their future relationship, as provided for under article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union. Under the terms of article 50, the UK is set to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, two years from the date of giving notice of its intention to leave. Following ratification, the withdrawal agreement would become a legally binding international treaty. The political declaration sets out a framework for the future relationship between the UK and the EU. The precise terms of the future relationship can only be negotiated once the UK has left the EU and become a third country. Formal negotiations can then begin before a legally binding agreement (or agreements) can be reached.

Section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (the EUWA) sets out specific requirements that must be met before the UK could ratify the withdrawal agreement, including approval by the House of Commons—what is popularly referred to as the ‘meaningful vote’—and a debate in the House of Lords. Both Houses began debates in December 2018 for the purposes of fulfilling the requirements of section 13. However, the day before the meaningful vote was due to take place in the Commons, the Prime Minister announced that she was deferring the vote in order to seek further assurances from the EU about the Northern Ireland backstop arrangements in the withdrawal agreement, as she believed that the Commons would otherwise reject the deal. In view of the postponement of the meaningful vote, the Lords adjourned its debate. Further debate has now been scheduled in the Lords for 9, 10 and, provisionally, 14 January 2019. Debate in the Commons will take place on 9 and 10 January 2019 and, subject to the approval of a business motion, possibly also on subsequent days. The Government has said it intends the Commons’ meaningful vote to take place in the week of 14 January 2019, but it has not yet put forward a specific date for this.

This briefing outlines the requirements of section 13 of the EUWA, and covers events surrounding the rescheduling of the debates in both Houses, as well as the discussions the UK has had with the EU since the meaningful vote was delayed. It then identifies relevant reports and useful documents which may be of assistance to Members in preparing for the debate.


Documents to download

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