This House of Lords Library Briefing has been prepared in advance of the second reading of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill on 13 January 2020. Committee stage is due to take place on 14, 15 and 16 January 2020, with report and third reading scheduled for 20 and 21 January 2020.
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The UK and the EU reached agreement on a revised withdrawal agreement on 17 October 2019. Unless both sides ratify it before 31 January 2020, the default legal position is that the UK will leave the EU on that date with no withdrawal agreement. On the UK side, ratifying the withdrawal agreement involves passing legislation to implement it in domestic law.
The Government introduced a European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill in October 2019. The Commons voted by a majority of 30 to give it second reading but voted against the programme motion, meaning it could make no further progress. The Conservative Party manifesto for the December 2019 general election promised to “get Brexit done” in January 2020. Having won the election, the Government introduced a new European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. It would implement the withdrawal agreement in domestic law and provide for a transition, or implementation, period until 31 December 2020. Its provisions would amend the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and create new regulation-making powers.
The new bill passed its second reading in the Commons on 20 December 2019 by 358 votes to 234. A programme motion was agreed by 353 votes to 243.
The bill was considered by a committee of the whole House on 7 and 8 January 2020. No amendments were made. Ten amendments were defeated on division. These included amendments on citizens’ rights; restrictions on the Government’s regulation-making powers; family reunion rights for child refugees; Parliament’s role in the future relationship negotiations with the EU; assessing the impacts on businesses and consumers of the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol; continued alignment with the EU on workers’ rights, consumer rights and environmental standards; and continued participation in EU agencies and programmes. Some of these amendments sought to address areas where the Government had included provisions in the previous version of the bill but not in the new version. The new bill prevents any extension to the implementation period beyond December 2020, which Labour highlighted as a “serious problem”.
An SNP amendment declining to give the bill its third reading was defeated. The bill passed its third reading in the Commons by 330 votes to 231.