This House of Lords Library Briefing summarises recent developments in relation to the UK’s departure from the European Union, focusing on debates that took place in the House of Lords on 28 January 2019 and in the House of Commons on 29 January 2019, under section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
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A new version of this briefing has been published, including updated content covering developments up to 8 February 2019.
Following the Government’s defeat in the ‘meaningful vote’ on 15 January 2019, further Brexit debates took place in the Lords and the Commons on 28 and 29 January 2019 respectively. This was in accordance with section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (EUWA) which sets out what must happen next if the Government fails to win approval for its Brexit deal in the House of Commons.
On 28 January 2019, the Lords agreed by a majority of 152 to a Labour motion calling on the Government to take all appropriate steps to ensure the UK does not leave without a deal, and to provide sufficient time in the Lords to pass legislation to implement any deal that has majority support in the Commons. The following day, the Commons voted by a majority of 16 in favour of a backbench amendment supported by the Government to replace the Northern Ireland backstop with “alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. The Prime Minister said this gave her a mandate to reopen negotiations with the EU to seek legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement. However, doubts have been expressed about what “alternative arrangements” could replace the backstop, and the EU has maintained that the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation.
The Commons also voted by a majority of eight in favour of an amendment rejecting the UK leaving the EU with no deal. However, this amendment cannot change the law or bind the Government or the EU to a particular course of action. Other amendments, including ones seeking an extension to the article 50 negotiating period, were defeated.
The Prime Minister said she intended to bring a revised deal back to the Commons for a “second meaningful vote” as soon as possible. If the Commons did not support that deal, she said the Government would table an amendable motion for debate the next day. If the Government has not brought back a revised deal by 13 February 2019, the Prime Minister said she would make a statement that day and table an amendable motion for debate the next day.
Prior to the Commons debate of 29 January 2019, the Leader of the House of Lords indicated the Lords would have the opportunity to respond to the outcome of any votes in the Commons. If the Government brings back a revised deal, section 13(1) of the EUWA requires a ‘take note’ motion to be tabled in the Lords; if the Commons approved that deal, the Lords would also have a role in passing legislation to implement a withdrawal agreement in domestic legislation, which must happen before the agreement could be ratified. If the Commons rejected a deal in a second meaningful vote, a further ‘take note’ debate would need to be scheduled in the Lords under section 13(6) of the EUWA.