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The debate on 11 March is the latest in a series of debates held in both Houses on the withdrawal agreement and political declaration the Government agreed with the EU in November 2018, which was rejected by the Commons in the ‘meaningful vote’ on 15 January 2019. This briefing covers developments since the publication of our last briefing, Further Article 50 Discussions with the EU, on 21 February 2019.

The Prime Minster delivered her most recent statement, updating the Commons on the progress of negotiations with the EU, on 26 February 2019. This was debated in the Commons and a take-note debate took place in the Lords on 27 February 2019. In her statement, Mrs May committed to holding a second ‘meaningful vote’ in the House of Commons by 12 March at the latest. If the Government did not win a ‘meaningful vote’ by then, it would table a motion for debate on 13 March 2019, allowing the Commons to vote on whether it wished the UK to leave the EU without a deal. Should the Commons vote against no deal, it would be given the opportunity on 14 March 2019 to vote on requiring the Government to request a short, limited, extension to article 50. An amendment by Yvette Cooper (Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) to add this commitment to the Government’s motion on 27 February was agreed on division by 502 votes to 20. Outside of statutory requirements under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the Prime Minister has not made reference to a role for the Lords in her commitment of 26 February.

On 27 February 2019, the Commons also agreed without division to an amendment moved by Alberto Costa (Conservative MP for South Leicestershire). This requires the Government to seek joint agreement with the EU to adopt the citizens’ rights part of the withdrawal agreement and implement it as a separate agreement in order to guarantee the rights of EU citizens even in the event of no deal. The Commons rejected, by a majority of 83, Labour’s “alternative plan” for changes to the political declaration. In her statement the Prime Minister built on previous comments from 29 January to protect workers’ rights once the UK leaves the EU. The Government published further details of its proposals for this on 6 March 2019. On 26 February 2019, it also published its latest assessment on the potential impact of no deal on businesses.

The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Attorney General have continued to hold discussions with EU leaders and European Commission officials about making legal changes to ensure that the Northern Ireland backstop in the withdrawal agreement would not end up becoming a permanent arrangement. To date, a solution acceptable to both sides does not seem to have emerged, although the Attorney General emphasised that the negotiations would not be conducted in public.

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